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Bryant's Accuser Testifies at Hearing

At closed-door session, woman faces Laker star for the first time since the alleged assault.

March 25, 2004|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

EAGLE, Colo. — The woman accusing Laker guard Kobe Bryant of sexual assault testified for nearly four hours Wednesday during a closed-door hearing that will determine whether details about her sex life will be admissible at trial.

Ten minutes after Bryant took his seat in the small Eagle County courtroom, the 19-year-old woman emerged from a fire exit door and walked into the courtroom flanked by her attorneys.

While she testified, her parents stood outside the courtroom talking with friends. Only court personnel, attorneys and Bryant were allowed to heard the woman's testimony.

"She walked in and out of court with her head held high," said Cynthia Stone, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "We think that is a great sign. It shows determination. It shows strength. It shows strength of conviction."

The rape-shield hearing marked the first time the Laker star and his accuser faced each other since their encounter June 30 at a mountain resort, where she says he raped her. Bryant has said they had consensual sex.

The woman finished her testimony by the lunch recess and will not return today when the hearing resumes at 7 a.m. Five additional witnesses testified during the afternoon, including Bobby Pietrack, the hotel bellman who was the first person the woman spoke to after she left Bryant's room.

Pietrack, a senior basketball player at Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colo., was questioned by defense attorney Pamela Mackey for an hour. Others who took the stand included Mandy Ross, the woman's roommate at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley in 2002-03; Lindsay McKinney, the woman's longtime friend from Eagle Valley High; and two unidentified young men.

Several more witnesses are expected to testify today. If the rape-shield hearing concludes, Judge Terry Ruckriegle will resume a suppression hearing to decide whether Bryant's recorded statements to investigators and a T-shirt stained with the accuser's blood should be admissible.

Bryant's attorneys are trying to establish that the woman's sexual history is an exception to the rape-shield law because they say she had a "scheme" to have sex with Bryant and others to gain the attention of a former boyfriend. Also, the defense says that minor vaginal injuries could have been caused by another sex partner.

The rape-shield statute keeps information about an alleged victim's sexual conduct out of a trial except in rare exceptions. As is typical in sexual assault cases, the judge is holding this closed hearing to determine whether the information is relevant and admissible as evidence.

"The rape-shield law says to judges, 'Be very careful, make sure the evidence is relevant to a genuine issue in the case and do not allow character assassination,' " legal analyst Craig Silverman said.

The woman was examined about 15 hours after the alleged rape, and DNA results have shown that fresh semen and sperm from a man other than Bryant were found on her thighs and vaginal area. Dried semen from someone other than Bryant also was found on the underwear she wore to the examination.

The defense contends she had sex with someone else between the time she left Bryant's room and her examination. The woman has denied that.

Experts differed on the wisdom of the defense's calling Bryant's accuser to testify before the other witnesses, including men with whom she allegedly had sexual relations.

"I'd have put everyone else on first," said David Lugert, a former Eagle County deputy district attorney. "Then instead of asking her general questions about her conduct, they could have asked her specifics about what everyone else said."

However, Denver defense attorney Lisa Wayne said Bryant's attorneys wanted the woman to testify before prosecutors knew what the other witnesses said.

"If the guys went first, the prosecution would have had the opportunity to prepare her based on what they said," Wayne said. "The defense wanted to catch her cold and catch the prosecution cold."

Silverman said that in addition to eliciting responses about her sexual history, Bryant's attorneys were evaluating the woman's demeanor on the witness stand.

"This was an opportunity to see what kind of witness she is and what kind of approach by attorneys will work best at trial," he said.

Bryant must return to court today. It is unlikely that he will testify at the suppression hearing, even though his attorneys contend that he believed he was in custody when he gave a statement to investigators.

"It's possible but unlikely that he would take the stand," Silverman said. "The critical thing is whether the detectives said to him, 'You aren't under arrest. You are free to go.' Kobe Bryant can testify that they never said it, but it's the word of two detectives against his and he would probably lose that battle."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Traveling

Timeline of events involving Kobe Bryant, with pretrial hearings in Eagle County, Colo., and the Laker game against Sacramento at Staples Center:

WEDNESDAY

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