Charges dropped in case against Bryant |

Charges dropped in case against Bryant

Kirk JohnsonThe New York Times

The Kobe Bryant rape case was dismissed Wednesday in Eagle after the prosecution said the woman who had accused Bryant of sexual assault would no longer cooperate, leaving the state no option but to drop the charges.The decision was made after meetings with the woman, her family and her lawyers, the district attorney in the case, Mark Hurlbert, said.”In every case there are ethical minimums in terms of quantity of evidence for a prosecutor to go forward,” Hurlbert said. “I have absolutely no doubt that those ethical standards were met and exceeded.”He added, “We respect her decision 100 percent.”In a case that veered from melodrama to farce over the last year, the dissolution of the criminal trial was not entirely unexpected. Legal scholars who have closely followed it say the prosecutor’s case has been steadily weakening for the last month as a result of rulings by Judge Terry Ruckriegle, the accidental release of sealed information about Bryant’s accuser and, not least, the woman’s own decision in early August to sue Bryant in civil court.The civil suit was a particularly devastating blow to the prosecution, because it would have allowed Bryant’s defense lawyers to portray the woman, whose name has not been officially released, as driven by greed, not a quest for justice.But the questions that were raised by the case – specifically what happened in a hotel room last summer in Edwards when a then-19-year-old front desk clerk went to Bryant’s room – live on, at least in the civil suit. And now the collapse of the criminal trial raises major questions of its own, in particular whether prosecutors were rash in filing charges in the first place, or whether the evidence looked stronger at first than it did later.The woman said they kissed and flirted and that he then became violent; he said the flirting led to consensual sex.Bryant, an all-star player for the Los Angeles Lakers who had enjoyed a positive reputation in a game where bad-boy behavior has become common, had faced up to four years to life in prison, or up to life on probation, if convicted of felony sexual assault. The prosecution and defense both spent huge sums of money in testing and investigation. Court facilities and personnel in Eagle County were often overwhelmed by the storm of media attention that the case engendered. Nearly 1,000 residents received summons to appear as potential jurors, and hundreds arrived beginning last week for questioning.Now the criminal case will apparently go away as if none of those machinations in the courtroom ever happened.In a statement read in court by his lawyer Pamela Mackey, Bryant said, addressing his accuser:”I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year.”He added: “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”The charges have already cost Bryant dearly. Once one of the top pitchmen in professional sports, Bryant lost endorsement deals with McDonald’s and Nutella in the months that followed his arrest. Although he agreed last year to a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract with Nike, the company has yet to air a single commercial featuring the Lakers star, or release a shoe bearing his signature.Among many sports fans, however, his popularity never seemed to wane. He was cheered enthusiastically at home games, and his No. 8 jersey remained a top seller. Although sometimes jeered on the road, notably during the Lakers’ two games in Denver, he enjoyed support in arenas from coast to coast.The degree to which he seemed to keep his cool as an athlete despite the case was also noted by fans and legal experts alike. On five separate occasions through the year of the pretrial hearings, he made the court-to-court transition (day in court, night on the court), and the Lakers won all five games, including three in the playoffs. But he finished the season with his lowest scoring average in four years and his worst shooting percentage since the 1997-98 season, Bryant’s second as a pro.From the beginning and through the long months of pretrial hearings, what marked the Bryant case was how often the small and intimate issues in a rape accusation collided with larger questions of society and gender, power and politics.Privacy got entangled with celebrity. Procedures of law and evidence became bound up with questions of money and fairness as local prosecutors more than once acknowledged their struggle to keep up with the barrage of legal motions and challenges that Bryant’s defense team, with its deep bench of investigators and experts, was able to produce.Tightly orchestrated judicial restrictions to protect secret court hearings were repeatedly trumped by happenstance and error, as clerks accidentally released, on three occasions, sealed documents that in turn became part of the legal scramble inside the courtroom.The central question usually was information – how much of it would be shared with the jury. This included information about the woman’s sexual history, about the statements Bryant made to the police before his arrest, about the clothing that was found in his hotel room that had her blood on it.Many of those same social issues and legal quandaries will most likely still be in play in federal court in Denver, where Bryant’s accuser filed her civil suit against Bryant on Aug. 10, legal experts said.But the terrain there will be very different. Colorado’s rape-victim protection laws, for example, which restrict how much information about a woman’s sexual past can be released, do not apply in civil trials. And for both sides, the rules about what is considered legally relevant information to allow in open court are much looser.A result, some experts said, is that a civil trial could make the criminal phase, for all its rough and tumble, look tame by comparison.The woman’s lawyers said in her lawsuit that the case against Bryant would rest in part on what the suit said was a pattern of attempting to sexually assault women. The charge was made in the initial court filing without any evidence to back it up, and Bryant’s lawyers have been unable to respond to it because of a gag order imposed by the court.But in a civil case, her lawyers would be able to pursue that question zealously, issuing subpoenas to any and all women who might be turned up by her investigators. Bryant’s lawyers would be unleashed as well, looking for ways and witnesses to tarnish her credibility.”It really starts a very different process,” said Arthur D. Hellman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.Hellman said the woman would have much more control of the process than she would in criminal court – being able to tell her story, for example, and find out information about Bryant – but the trade-off is that she is much more vulnerable as well.”In civil court it’s much more of a two-way street – each has more opportunity to get information about the other,” he said.


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