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Affidavits in Bryant Case to Stay Sealed

A Colorado judge rules the Laker star and his accuser would be hurt by files' release. An Iowa man is charged with threatening the woman.

August 22, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

The judge presiding over Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case ordered Thursday that the documents carrying the most detailed information that led to the Laker guard's July 4 arrest would remain sealed.

Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett concluded in his 16-page order that Bryant's right to a fair trial on a felony sexual assault charge would be prejudiced by the disclosure of the documents, and said that opening the entire file would be "contrary to the public interest."

Gannett also said Bryant's accuser, a 19-year-old woman from Eagle, Colo., would be subjected to "further intimidation, harassment and abuse," if the documents were opened. Also Thursday, a 22-year-old Iowa man was arrested and charged with threatening to kill the alleged victim.

Gannett's order specifically keeps sealed affidavits used by the Eagle County Sheriff's Department to arrest Bryant and to search his hotel room at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera in Edwards, Colo., where he allegedly raped the woman on the night of June 30.

The order does allow for the unsealing of the arrest warrant and a petition used to require Bryant to provide DNA samples at a Colorado hospital on July 2, but the county's former sheriff labeled those documents "pretty generic."

"If [Gannett's] not releasing the affidavits, he's not releasing [anything]," former Eagle County Sheriff A.J. Johnson said. "The arrest warrant has a small amount of information saying probable cause existed for his arrest and the petition is calling for an order for him to provide medical samples. They wanted to prove there was sex, and needed something to tie [Bryant's] DNA or blood to the fluids found on her."

Chris Beall, a Colorado attorney representing The Times and other news organizations who argued before Gannett last month for the unsealing of the documents, added, "The stuff [Gannett] is ordering to be unsealed is stuff that's already in the public domain."

The affidavits include information, evidence and witness statements used by the Sheriff's Department to convince a Clear Creek County judge to issue a warrant for Bryant's arrest.

Gannett revealed in his order that the affidavits contained specific details of the alleged incident that have not been made public, including graphic details of the sexual encounter that Bryant maintains was consensual.

Beall said Thursday night that he was conferring with clients to determine whether the news organizations should challenge Gannett's decision. The judge delayed the order for 10 days to allow attorneys from either side to appeal.

Dist. Atty. Mark Hurlbert and Bryant's attorneys, Pamela Mackey and Harold Haddon, were united in the attempt to keep the documents sealed. Krista Flannigan, the spokeswoman for Hurlbert's office, said an appeal to keep the arrest warrant sealed was still being evaluated, although she conceded there was satisfaction with the judge's agreement with the arguments made in court by the prosecution and defense.

"Keeping them sealed ensures a fair trial and protects the victim from harassment," Flannigan said.

Gannett also wrote in his order that the case's extensive publicity, even without media access to the affidavits, should not result in a change of venue from Eagle County, where less than 1% of the population is black.

Beall contends that Gannett provided an argument for the unsealing of the affidavits in his order when he wrote the affidavits contained "statements of law enforcement based on multiple layers of hearsay which are likely not admissible at trial," along with, "descriptions of conduct which is likely to be either irrelevant or inadmissible," and "statements which are attributed to [Bryant] which may or may not be admissible if challenged by [Bryant] at trial."

Beall noted that Bryant's attorneys have criticized Sheriff Joseph Hoy and his staff as overzealous in seeking the Laker star's arrest. "If there is this belief that the sheriff acted improperly by relying on information that was prejudicial and not germane -- and that's what [the judge is] implying -- then why should the residents of Eagle County have to wait one year to find out how Sheriff Hoy acted?"

Legal observers are also now wondering whether Gannett will strongly consider closing Bryant's scheduled preliminary hearing on Oct. 9, where Hurlbert could introduce details in the affidavits to convince the judge that a jury trial for Bryant is warranted.

One media attorney said, "I believe we'll be seeing a motion in the next few days to close the preliminary hearing, and Exhibit 1 will be this order."

Gannett already has threatened to exclude from court news organizations that identify Bryant's accuser, who authorities say was the target of a profanity-laced message left by John William Roche of Iowa City on her family's answering machine July 27.

Roche was arrested Thursday at his home and was taken by authorities to the federal courthouse in Rock Island, Ill., where he waived his identity hearing and was released.

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