Prosecutors in the rape case against Kobe Bryant are seeking to postpone his trial indefinitely, arguing that the judge's failure to rule on key issues and the release last week of closed-door testimony have hindered their preparations and could prejudice potential jurors, according to a court document released today.
In a motion for continuance filed Tuesday in District Court in Eagle County, Colo., the prosecution team led by District Attorney Mark Hurlbert listed four reasons for wanting a delay in the trial of the Los Angeles Lakers star on charges of having raped a woman, then 19, in his hotel room last year in the resort town of Eagle. Jury selection for the trial was scheduled to begin Aug. 27.
The motion did not mention the accuser's filing Tuesday of a civil suit against Bryant, a development seen as damaging to the prosecution in the criminal case because it could bolster defense arguments that the woman, now 20, is motivated by money.
In the civil complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the accuser says she has suffered stress, emotional distress and both mental and physical pain from the sexual assault, and has been subjected to public scorn, hatred, ridicule and threats against her life and safety. She seeks more than $75,000 in compensatory damages, plus an unspecified amount in punitive damages.
Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to the charge of felony sexual assault, but he has acknowledged that he had sex with the woman, claiming it was consensual.
In their motion for continuance, the prosecutors complained that the inadvertent release on Aug. 2 of the transcript of testimony by a defense DNA expert, Elizabeth Johnson, had hurt their case because they had not been able to present their own experts at that hearing.
"Thus there is an absence of balance in the information released," prosecutor Dana J. Easter wrote in the motion on Hurlbert's behalf. "The release of this information 28 days prior to trial will have the effect of tainting the jury pool and impact the ability of the prosecution to obtain a fair jury at this time."
Easter argued that a subsequent gag order by Judge W. Terry Ruckriegle prohibited "any fair response" to the released testimony.
The motion also criticized the judge for failing to rule on motions "regarding mental health and drug and alcohol issues," even though all parties had filed their closing arguments on those motions in May. Bryant's defense team has sought to present evidence on the accuser's mental health and alleged use of drugs and alcohol. If that is allowed, Easter wrote, the prosecution might need to hire three expert witnesses at considerable cost, an expense that it does not want to incur without a ruling from the court.
"Lack of a timely ruling has prejudiced the People in their preparation for the trial," according to the motion.
In addition, it says, delayed rulings on the mental health and drug and alcohol issues "have had a substantial impact on the victim's ability to anticipate and prepare her testimony for trial." Testimony already received by the court on those issues was "extremely intrusive and personal to the victim," it says.
The motion also complains that the prosecution was able to view photographs of sperm, apparently taken by Johnson as a defense exhibit, on Aug. 3 for the first time, two months after a deadline for all defense data to be shown to prosecutors.
The defense has five days to respond to the motion to postpone the trial. If Ruckriegle grants the motion, the trial could be delayed by at least several weeks.