Bryant's Defense Tactics Are Criticized
Crime Victim Advocates Call Line of Questioning a 'Sleazy Performance'
By T.R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 11, 2003; Page A02
DENVER, Oct. 10 -- Advocates for crime victims and some attorneys Friday sharply criticized Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and his female defense attorney for reaching "a new low in attacking the victim" during Thursday's preliminary hearing on the felony rape charge against Bryant.
"We were disgusted that the defense team referred to the victim by name -- that's a violation of a court order -- and then proceeded to smear her in a public forum," said Cynthia Stone, of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "Trying to shift the blame is a standard tactic for rape defendants, but this was a new low in attacking the victim."
The angry reaction was triggered by Bryant's chief defense lawyer, Pamela Mackey, during her cross-examination of an Eagle County, Colo., investigator in the initial evidentiary hearing of the criminal case against Bryant. Mackey made it clear that Bryant's defense will involve a sharp attack on the veracity and morality of the accuser.
Bryant, who attended Thursday's hearing, returned to California where he rejoined his teammates Friday for the Lakers' media day, the Associated Press reported.
Bryant, in his No. 8 jersey, smiled for photographs and read promotional spots for the Lakers' television and radio affiliates, joking with team staff members in between shots, the AP reported. "I'm not really here to talk about hearings," Bryant told reporters. "Anybody got any questions about the season and my teammates, I'd be more than happy to answer those."
The Lakers restricted entry to journalists holding season credentials, which meant many reporters, photographers and cameramen were kept out.
In the public hearing Thursday, Mackey repeatedly mentioned the name of the 19-year-old Eagle, Colo., woman who has charged Bryant with a violent rape -- despite an order barring the use of the name. And Mackey suggested, without offering evidence, that the woman had been promiscuous with other men. The Colorado Rape Shield law prohibits mention of an alleged victim's sexual history except in rare circumstances.
That remark from Mackey prompted Judge Frederick Gannett to shut down the hearing abruptly. The hearing is scheduled to resume Wednesday.
"It was a sleazy performance. It was despicable," complained Norman Early, a former Denver District Attorney who attended the hearing. "The point was to intimidate the victim, to send her a message that she is going to be smeared as this case goes ahead."
Mackey said Friday that her courtroom performance was not sleazy. "Oh heavens no," she said in a telephone interview. "I don't practice law that way." Mackey said a gag order in the case prevents her from explaining her trial tactics. Mackey said in court Thursday that she had used the accuser's name inadvertently. Despite objections from prosecutors, she repeated the name six times, drawing mild admonitions from the judge.
Craig Silverman, a Denver-based defense lawyer and a friend of Mackey's, said the defense's aggressive tactics were appropriate on the day when prosecutors set forth "a pretty brutal depiction of Kobe's conduct."
"She has to challenge the evidence," Silverman said. "She is representing a client facing life in prison."
Nathan Chambers, another Denver defense attorney, said Mackey's allusion to the alleged victim's prior sexual conduct might be justified under an exception to the state's Rape Shield Law. "It was a response to evidence put forward by the prosecution," he said.
Bryant, a husband and father, faces charges of felony sex assault following sexual intercourse on the night of June 30 with the Eagle woman, who was a clerk at the resort hotel where he was staying. Bryant said the intercourse was consensual, but the alleged victim told police that the 6-foot-6 athlete gripped her by the neck and forcibly violated her. If convicted, Bryant faces penalties ranging from 20 years of closely supervised probation to a prison term of four years to life.
Bryant's defense team had asked for the right to question the accuser at Thursday's preliminary hearing, but the judge denied that motion. The alleged victim did not attend the session, but a county detective related her detailed and graphic depiction of a rape.
According to Colorado law, a preliminary hearing is a procedural step along the path to a criminal trial. Bryant's defense team had the right to waive the hearing, and many legal experts thought they would do so. The theory was that with his reputation on the line -- as well as the tens of millions of dollars he receives for product endorsements -- Bryant would not want a public session setting forth a detailed account of his alleged crime.
But defense lawyers went ahead with the hearing, leaving observers to speculate as to why.
"I now think the whole reason Kobe Bryant went ahead with the hearing was to intimidate the victim, to try to wear her down," Stone said. "It may be that the defense wanted to freeze the prosecution's evidence," said Bruce Carey, an Eagle County criminal lawyer. "You get it on the record at this hearing, and then the prosecutors can't come up with something different at the trial."
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