Reaction among experts who have followed Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case to news that the Laker star leads the Western Conference All-Star voting ranged from dismay to delight.
Victims' rights groups are upset at the perception that support for Bryant's accuser could be eroding, but some legal analysts said the voting might reflect a growing feeling that the prosecution's case is weak.
"It is upsetting when Kobe gets this kind of show of support, while at the same time the victim is slandered over the Internet and there are death threats," said Cynthia Stone, spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
"This case is the epitome of how our society treats victims of sexual assault. We don't have a mechanism in place to show support for victims. We don't have an All-Star game. We don't get to vote across the country."
However, Larry Pozner, former president of the National Assn. of Criminal Defense Lawyers, took an opposite view, interpreting the voting as "Americans living up to the Constitution."
"The public is saying, 'I'll decide his guilt or innocence based on the proof, not the rumors,' " he said. "If that happens, he is in very good shape. I think sports fans are not really different than anyone else. They don't tolerate criminals, but they don't necessarily believe every rumor."
Pozner and other legal analysts note that the pendulum of public opinion began to swing in Bryant's direction after the October preliminary hearing, when Bryant's attorneys repeatedly poked holes in the prosecution's evidence. Even the presiding judge indicated the case was flimsy.
Bryant, 25, is accused of raping the 19-year-old Eagle woman June 30 at a mountain resort where she worked and he was a guest. She told a detective that Bryant forced her to have vaginal intercourse while she leaned over a chair and he held her neck.
Bryant says they had consensual sex. The woman admits she went willingly to his room and during her initial interview with a detective said that she did not say "no" during the encounter. Testimony also made clear there was no bruising or marks on her neck or shoulders.
"It's stunning Kobe would get that All-Star vote, and it does show the effects of the preliminary hearing," Pozner said. "People heard so many uncontested facts that cast doubt on the prosecution case and said, 'Wait a minute.' "
Victims' advocates don't believe the public can make an informed decision until the trial.
"I do want to remind people that this whole thing is not a popularity contest, it is a criminal case," Stone said. "All we are really asking is that the victim be supported with dignity and fairness."