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Bryant Hearings Resume

Today's proceeding to start in open court. Jury instruction regarding consent is among issues.

June 21, 2004|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

EAGLE, Colo. — Weeks ago, the judge in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case scheduled today's hearing for one day after Game 7 of the NBA Finals would have been played.

The worry at the time among Laker faithful was that Bryant might miss the championship parade. Instead, the season ended in disappointment, and it is unclear whether the All-Star guard will re-sign with the Lakers or sign with someone else.

The greatest uncertainty concerning Bryant's future, however, continues to be his legal situation. The admissibility at trial of two key issues remains unresolved -- Bryant's statements to investigators and his accuser's sexual activity with other men in the days surrounding the alleged rape June 30 at a mountain resort.

Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with his 20-year-old accuser. If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation and a fine up to $750,000. As pretrial hearings drag into their seventh month and the case approaches the one-year mark, there has been no indication that Judge Terry Ruckriegle will set a trial date during hearings today and Tuesday in Eagle County Court.

Today's proceeding will begin in open court, and the judge will clear the courtroom before testimony pertaining to the rape shield law and questions about expert witnesses are addressed.

Ruckriegle has become impatient with delays, most of which involve ongoing testing of DNA evidence. In recent court filings, Bryant's attorneys and prosecutors have blamed each other in increasingly contentious tones, and both sides have asked the judge to impose sanctions for misconduct.

Eagle County Dist. Atty. Mark Hurlbert fired the latest volley Friday, saying Bryant's attorneys have given "a litany of supposed misdeeds" by the prosecution "that are at best misleading."

So many issues must be litigated through motions before they can be addressed in court that Ruckriegle shortened this week's hearing from five to two days. More pretrial hearings are scheduled July 19 through 21.

Among the arguments today in open court will be defense motions on language in the jury questionnaire and jury instructions on the charges. Bryant's attorneys believe jurors should be told they must acquit Bryant if they determine his accuser consented to sex and have pointed out in court filings that there is no case law pertaining to the issue. The prosecution says the jury does not need to determine whether Bryant knew the woman was having sex with him against her will in order to convict him.

"Sexual assault involves causing submission of the victim and thereby prohibits conduct which by its very nature negates the existence of the victim's consent," Hurlbert wrote in a recent court filing.

The defense also wants the judge to inform the jury that investigators failed to collect and preserve certain evidence at the crime scene, suggesting that jury instructions include the following: "You are to assume that the missing evidence, had it been collected and preserved, would have not incriminated the defendant and would have tended to prove the defendant not guilty."

Issues in closed court include a defense motion to strike the testimony of prosecution expert Michael Baden and a prosecution motion to strike the testimony of defense expert Elizabeth Johnson. Prosecutions say Baden is an expert on genital trauma and jaw-line bruising; the defense has used Johnson as its DNA expert.

The defense also wants to use information about money paid to the accuser through the Crime Victims Compensation Fund at trial. Bryant's attorneys have suggested the woman used public money to pay for drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.

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