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A Case's Disagreeable Conclusion

Kobe Bryant's Apology Leaves Much Unresolved

By Jose Antonio Vargas and Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 3, 2004; Page C01

No other way to see it but as a nonresolution resolution, a nonapology apology . . . a real head-scratcher.

"I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year," the statement, released Wednesday, read.


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Then came two sentences that may have kept Kobe Bryant's lawyers busy at the word processor for many weeks:

"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. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."

Was it a confession? And, if so, of what?

Or was it, as Dean Kilpatrick, director of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, called it, a "miscommunication" defense?

"He's saying he didn't know she meant no," says Jeralyn Merritt, a legal analyst in Denver who has closely followed the case. She says the statement isn't the same thing as an admission of guilt. Bryant doesn't quite say, in his apology, that his accuser didn't consent to sex, only that he can understand why she feels that she didn't consent.

"It brings us no closer to factual resolution as to which one of them was right. The only thing it does is, they've agreed to disagree about what happened," says Merritt.

The Bryant rape case had all the ingredients to become another in a series of sensational, saturation-coverage, hyperventilating courtroom dramas that have become a staple of the tabloids and cable TV. The case had celebrity, money and a furtive encounter that was most certainly adultery -- and quite possibly a crime. Bryant is also an African American defendant in a pale part of the country, accused by a white woman barely past adolescence. The defense aggressively sought to introduce evidence that the accuser was sexually promiscuous. The details were tawdry and tragic, the stakes extremely high: Had Bryant been convicted, he would have faced from four years to life in prison. The young woman's family and friends have spoken passionately about her pain and humiliation, about her being victimized twice, first by Bryant and then a fumbling court system. No one outside the hotel room will ever know for certain what happened, and with his apology this week, Bryant seems to have suggested that not even the two people in the room can say for sure what the truth is.

Jeffrey Toobin, a New Yorker writer and legal analyst for CNN, notes, "It's a lot closer to a confession than people who have just won their cases usually make." The statement, he says, is a rarity in the legal world, for although it is written in legalese, it has, for him, the ring of truth. He added: "You can't make a criminal case out of an encounter that is subject to two reasonable interpretations."

The "he-said, she-said" of People v. Kobe Bean Bryant -- going on its 14th month, with a multimillion-dollar price tag and one trip to the U.S. Supreme Court -- has come to an ending that few people expected or found fully satisfying.

"To repent, yet not be repentive," says Philip L. Broyles, 49, a government worker waiting for a bus in downtown Washington. "That's how that apology read like to me. Look, Kobe's lawyer read that statement. He didn't verbalize it. He went to a prepared path of exit."

"Bryant had to say something -- you know, to smoothen things over," says Jasper McLean, 27, a postal assistant lunching on hamburgers with a friend at ESPN Zone, where the three-page menu includes a summary of news reports. The top headline read: "Meeting Adjourned."

The accuser -- a 20-year-old former Eagle Valley High cheerleader and choir member -- isn't talking, and Bryant, 26, has released only the one statement. Bryant's lawyers told ESPN that the apology was a condition of the woman, who "insisted on that statement as a price of freedom." Still, a federal civil lawsuit seeking "unspecified damages," filed by the woman Aug. 10, is pending.


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