Bryant's Hearing Opens With Graphic Testimony
By T.R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 2003; Page A01
EAGLE, Colo., Oct. 9 -- Kobe Bryant's accuser told police that the National Basketball Association all-star player grabbed her by the neck, bent her over a chair, and raped her violently while she wept and repeatedly said "no," a sheriff's deputy testified Thursday in the first evidentiary hearing of Bryant's criminal case.
Bryant's lawyers made it clear at the preliminary hearing that his chief defense strategy will be a forceful attack on the veracity and character of the 19-year-old hotel clerk who alleges that Bryant raped her at a mountain resort in late June. Defense lawyer Pamela Mackey repeatedly named the alleged victim during the explosive courtroom session -- despite a court order barring use of her name -- and then suggested that the woman had been promiscuous with more than one man in the days before her encounter with Bryant.
Prosecutors immediately objected, arguing that Mackey's comment was unsupported by evidence and violated the Colorado law protecting rape victims. At that point, county judge Frederick Gannett banged the session to a close, lectured the lawyers in his chambers, and rescheduled the proceeding for next week.
Before that dramatic denouement, though, Eagle County prosecutors, who have charged the Los Angeles Lakers' guard with felony sexual assault, used the hearing to set forth the woman's detailed description of her fateful encounter with Bryant.
Eagle County Sheriff's Detective Doug Winters, who interviewed the alleged victim the morning after the incident, testified that the woman described herself as excited when the superstar athlete walked into the hotel where she worked, and flattered when Bryant asked her to come to his suite.
She told police, Winters continued, that she did not initially resist when Bryant hugged and kissed her, but was unable to break free when the 6-foot-6 athlete held her by the neck with one hand, pulled off her underwear with the other, and violated her. According to the testimony, the woman told investigators that Bryant repeatedly warned her not to tell anyone what had happened.
Winters also testified that a trained sexual assault nurse who examined the woman the day after the incident found blood in her underwear and vaginal injuries "not consistent with consensual sex."
Bryant, a husband and father, has admitted having sex with the woman that night. He says the intercourse was consensual, and that assertion is the heart of his defense. If convicted, he faces penalties ranging from 20 years of closely supervised probation to a prison term of four years to life.
Bryant was required to attend Thursday's hearing as a condition of his release on $25,000 bail. Wearing a dark blue suit over a cappuccino-colored polo shirt, he listened with an impassive face throughout the five-hour court session. Surrounded by his lawyers, his agent, and phalanx of body guards, he said nothing before, during or after the hearing.
Mackey, a prominent Denver defense lawyer, did the talking for the Bryant side, and was aggressive throughout the hearing. In mocking tones, she described the accuser's account as "this story she told." She repeatedly asked Winters why he had seen no bruises on the woman's neck or arms the morning after the incident. "Does that support this story of grabbing her neck?" Mackey demanded.
Finally, Mackey got around to the nurse's report, which said the vaginal injuries were not consistent with consensual sex. It was at that point that she began to suggest the woman had been with other recent partners -- until she was cut off in mid-sentence by the prosecutors' objections and the judge.
Colorado's Rape Shield Law makes it illegal for anyone -- even a defense attorney -- to make accusations about an alleged victim's prior sexual conduct except in rare circumstances.
In Colorado criminal law, a preliminary hearing is essentially a protective measure for the defendant. The prosecutors must prove to the judge's satisfaction they have enough evidence of a crime to justify a full-scale trial.
Several local criminal lawyers who came to the courtroom as spectators Thursday agreed that the prosecutors probably produced enough evidence to meet the fairly low standard required to "bind over" a case for trial. The judge's decision will not be made until the conclusion of the hearing, which will reconvene here next Wednesday morning. Bryant must be present.
But the lawyers in the audience also said Mackey's cross-examination had poked holes in the prosecution's case. "I'm surprised at how weak the case was today," said Bruce Carey, a prominent Eagle County defense attorney. "I think it will go to trial. But if they don't have more than this by the trial, the result is going to be 'not guilty.' "
The accuser, a resident of Eagle who has finished one year in college, told investigators that she engaged in "mutual flirting" with Bryant as she gave him a tour of the $350-per-night Lodge at Cordillera in Edwards, Colo., according to testimony Thursday. They then went back to his suite and he asked for a hug, she reported. They began kissing. Then Bryant put both hands on her neck, and she became frightened, Winters testified.
"She was trying to move toward the door. His back's toward the door, she's trying to get around him, and he blocked her movement," Winters testified, recalling what the woman reported. "He forced her toward the chair area. She said, 'No.' She was crying," he said, adding, "she felt pain in her vaginal area."
The intercourse lasted about five minutes, according to the woman's report. Winters said he did not ask her whether there was oral sex as well. But when the rape nurse asked her an hour later, the woman said Bryant had forced her to kiss his genital area after the intercourse.
After that, the woman told investigators, she used the bathroom in Bryant's suite to clean up and straighten her clothes. She then went to the lobby and told a bellman that she had been raped by the famous basketball player. The next morning her father called the sheriff's office, and thus began a high-profile criminal drama that will presumably continue in the courts for months to come.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company