EAGLE, Colo., Sept. 1 -- A Colorado judge dismissed a rape charge against Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant on Wednesday after prosecutors said the woman who alleged she had been assaulted would not testify against the basketball star.
Jury selection was underway, and opening arguments were scheduled for next week. The case had the makings of one of the most high-profile celebrity trials since that of O.J. Simpson.
The Kobe Bryant case collapses as prosecutors said they had no choice but to drop the sexual assault charge against Bryant because the alleged victim could no longer participate.
But in a dramatic eleventh-hour hearing late Wednesday, lawyers said the 20-year-old accuser would not go forward. District Attorney Mark Hurlbert asked the judge, "for this reason and this reason only," to drop the charge.
The dismissal ended a case that had generated intense emotions: Victim advocates had decried Judge Terry Ruckriegle's decision to allow evidence of the accuser's sexual activity in the days surrounding her encounter with Bryant and efforts by his attorneys to attack her reputation.
The woman has filed a civil lawsuit against Bryant, which is still pending. His defenders have said she is now attempting to make money off the basketball player.
Bryant, 26, acknowledged having sex with the woman at a nearby resort but said it was consensual. After the hearing, in a statement read by his attorney Pamela Mackey, he told the woman he was sorry.
"I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year," the statement said. "Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure. I also want to apologize to her parents and family members, and to my family and friends and supporters, and to the citizens of Eagle, Colorado.
"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did."
It was unclear whether Bryant's statement was part of any negotiated end to the case. Defense lawyers left court without taking questions, and Hurlbert, after speaking to reporters, also did not answer questions.
Bryant faced the possibility of life in prison if convicted. His new $136 million contract with the Lakers would have been voided.
Bryant and the woman were not in the courtroom for the hearing, at which lawyers for both sides agreed that the charge would be dropped "with prejudice." That means Bryant cannot be charged in the same incident again.
Hurlbert, the local prosecutor who is campaigning to keep his job in the November election, told reporters after the hearing that "justice in this case has been interrupted."
"The prosecution team wants to try this case. This is the victim's personal decision. Candidly, I understand why she had misgivings about her rights being protected," he said.
In recent weeks, there were clear indications that the alleged victim had become reluctant to pursue the case. Her personal lawyer, John Clune, said her concern increased sharply when Ruckriegle ruled that evidence of her sexual activity in the days surrounding her encounter with Bryant could be made public at the trial.