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Guarded Testimony

Bobby Pietrack, the hotel bellman who encountered Bryant's accuser shortly after the alleged rape, is a college basketball player with a solid reputation

October 10, 2003|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

There is more than one basketball player central to the Kobe Bryant case.

During the Laker guard's preliminary hearing Thursday, it became clear that Bobby Pietrack, a seldom-used guard and widely respected honor student at tiny Fort Lewis College, could have an enormous impact on whether Bryant is found guilty of felony sexual assault.

Eagle County Sheriff's Det. Doug Winters testified that a bellman at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, an Edwards, Colo., resort, witnessed Bryant and his 19-year-old accuser walking toward the Laker star's hotel room and was later present in the lobby when the woman returned, disheveled and visibly shaken.

Although he was never mentioned by name -- just "the bellman" -- Thursday, legal analysts say Pietrack is the most important prosecution witness besides the woman who alleges Bryant raped her the night of June 30.

The former Eagle high school star was the first person the woman encountered after she left Bryant's room, according to her statement to police.

At the time, Pietrack, 22, might not have understood the importance of an "outcry witness" -- whose testimony about what the alleged victim said is not considered hearsay -- but he certainly does now.

Three days after Bryant's July 4 arrest, a private investigator working for the Laker star knocked on the door of Pietrack's home in Eagle. Reporters began calling the same day -- and haven't stopped.

According to Det. Winters, Pietrack spoke with the woman and Bryant on a hotel balcony before their encounter and with the woman again minutes after she left Bryant's hotel room. He then followed her home in his car. What did Pietrack observe? What did the woman say to him?

Could the testimony of this 5-foot-10 reserve who made two of 15 shots for an NCAA Division II school last season sink a five-time NBA all-star? Or might Pietrack sink the case against Bryant?


Fort Lewis was established 125 years ago to protect those inside from dangers inherent to life in the Old West. The fort became an Indian school in 1891 and in 1956 moved to its current location atop a mesa overlooking Durango, a rustic former mining town in the remote Four Corners region of Colorado.

Now the college that bears the name of the historic stronghold is trying to provide haven for Pietrack.

Campus police and administrators have implemented a plan to shield him from peril -- and from the media.

The concern appears merited. Pietrack was the target of venomous phone calls during the summer while living with his parents in Eagle. Photos of him and his friends were lifted from an autobiographical Web site he built for a class last year and posted on sites dedicated to the case.

Furthermore, threats have been made to several people associated with the case. Two men have been arrested in connection with threats to Bryant's accuser, and the prosecutor in the case, Mark Hurlbert, said he has received "hundreds" of threats.

Fort Lewis campus Police Chief Arnold Trujillo said he is not aware of any threats against Pietrack since classes began Sept. 1. But Trujillo is being proactive -- an officer is expected to accompany the basketball team on its long bus rides through the mountains to road games.

Approached during an informal shoot-around in the Fort Lewis gym last month, before the policy was implemented, Pietrack was polite but firm.

He wouldn't comment on the Bryant case, and he said he doesn't want his family or friends to comment. He is disturbed that his chance involvement in what has become a huge story threatens to disrupt his tranquil college experience and the team's focus on the upcoming season.

From all accounts, he is well aware of the impact his testimony could make and refuses to do anything that could compromise his integrity or credibility.

"I'm afraid that if I say anything or my teammates say anything, [other media] will see it and come up here," he said. "I won't be left alone."

He later released a statement: "I believe I have a civic duty to be honest, and out of fairness to everyone involved, refrain from commenting on any knowledge I have about this situation. Therefore, I ask everyone to please respect this decision and my family's privacy. Thank you."

Pietrack clearly is ill at ease with the circumstances that have thrust him into the spotlight. However, he is driven by a desire to do what is proper.

"One thing you can say about Bobby -- he will always do what he thinks is the right thing," said Bob Hofman, the Fort Lewis coach. "That's how he is. He's a terrific kid."

A few days after an interview with The Times, Hofman was instructed not to talk about Pietrack to reporters. If someone asks, a Fort Lewis administrator told the coach, just say you don't know who he is.

Many on campus are forbidden from mentioning Pietrack's name.

"We cannot comment on that person at all," said Sarah Meier, the sports information director. "We have no comment on that person. So whatever anybody is looking for, there is nothing to find."


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