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No Deals Were Made, Lawyers Insist

September 03, 2004|Steve Henson and Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writers

EAGLE, Colo. — As Kobe Bryant signed autographs at the airport here Thursday, attorneys for his accuser reiterated that no financial settlement was discussed before the criminal charge against him was dropped and new details emerged about the case's sudden ending.

The 20-year-old woman had called Dist. Atty. Mark Hurlbert at 11 a.m. Wednesday and told him she was unable to testify. Within hours, prosecutors huddled with her civil attorneys and finalized the decision to dismiss the felony sexual assault case against the Laker star.

"It was totally out of the blue," Sheriff Joe Hoy said Thursday.

Hoy said he was looking out his office window Wednesday when Hurlbert and fellow prosecutor Gregg Crittenden approached, accompanied by two sheriff's deputies.

"I jokingly said to my deputies, "Don't let those two bums in,' " Hoy said.

No one laughed. It had been more than a year since the sheriff had taken the unusual step of ordering Bryant's arrest without consulting the district attorney. Now it was Hurlbert's turn to deliver a surprise.

But after Hurlbert explained the reason the case would not go to trial, Hoy said he backed the decision.

"We put so much time and energy into this," Hoy said. "But it is understandable. It's not a bitter pill because of the circumstances surrounding the dismissal. It is a private issue between the girl and her family."

Hoy said there is more to the alleged victim's refusal to testify than a desire to focus on her civil case and target Bryant's bank account. And another top Eagle County official said, "It's about her physical and emotional well-being. This girl is ruined."

Although the accuser had wavered several times in recent weeks, this apparently was the first time she said she would not take the stand.

"We told her we respected and supported each and every decision she makes, as we have done since the filing of the charges," prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said. "When victims are traumatized, the idea of going back to trial to testify can be very re-traumatizing."

Despite rampant speculation that dropping the charge was tied to a financial settlement, attorneys for the woman maintained that was not true. In Colorado, paying a witness for not testifying is against the law.

Lin Wood, who joined the accuser's legal team two months ago, said Thursday that reports of a secret agreement were "absolutely bogus."

John Clune, the woman's other attorney, had said at Wednesday's dismissal hearing, "One thing I want to make clear, Judge, because rumors abound regarding whether there was a relationship to the civil case or any dollars being exchanged in consideration for the motion, we have not entered into a single discussion about money."

Bryant was back in Eagle on Thursday to attend a party with his defense team to celebrate the dismissal. He later signed basketballs for employees at the Eagle County Airport before departing on his private jet.

Clune said neither he nor Wood met with Bryant, and a court spokeswoman said Bryant had no court business pertaining to the criminal case.

Bryant was not in court the day before when the case was dismissed. One of his attorneys, Pamela Mackey, told the judge he had gone home "to be with his family."

The accuser's father, contacted Thursday at his home in Eagle as he watered the front lawn, declined to discuss his daughter's reason for not testifying. He said she was not commenting either.

"We know the gag order is over, but the family has no statement to make," he said.

The father, a retired telephone company worker and longtime Eagle resident, wrote a letter to Judge Terry Ruckriegle last month expressing disappointment and outrage at his daughter's treatment by the court. Her attorneys filed a civil suit Aug. 10 and suggested she might not testify at the criminal trial, triggering speculation that she was more interested in money than justice.

Even though her name was included in an errant e-mail and three inadvertent postings on the court website, major news organizations refrained from identifying her. The e-mail disseminated transcripts from a closed hearing in which a defense expert asserted that the accuser had sex with a man other than Bryant in the 15 hours after the alleged rape and before her medical examination.

Clune said the mounting pressure on the woman included numerous death threats, news allegations related to her sex life, and "stalking and harassing" by media outlets that have prompted her to reside in four states in six months.

At the hearing, Clune said the FBI was investigating one of the woman's mental health counselors, who allegedly had tried to sell her confidential file.

Evidence of the woman's mental health problems would not have been admissible at trial. Experts familiar with the evidence say the outcome would have hinged on who was most credible: Bryant, the NBA star, or the troubled young woman.

"That's a tough criminal trial, isn't it?" Wood said.

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