Calling their case clouded by court errors and delays, prosecutors have asked a Colorado judge to indefinitely postpone the upcoming trial of pro basketball star Kobe Bryant on charges of felony sexual assault.
In a filing made public Wednesday, the Eagle County, Colo., district attorney's office said it is making the request just two weeks before the scheduled start of Bryant's trial because it believes the jury pool has been tainted and because it is waiting for crucial court rulings on evidence.
The prosecution's request came in the same week that his accuser filed a lawsuit against Bryant, one of the nation's most famous athletes, seeking at least $75,000 in damages for the alleged assault. After that request became publicly known, prosecutors appealed a key ruling in the case to the Colorado Supreme Court -- arguing that the accuser's sexual history should not be admitted as evidence, the Associated Press reported.
The developments could signal that the criminal case against Bryant is unraveling, legal analysts said.
In their motion seeking the delay, prosecutors focused on the mistaken public release by the court late last month of sealed testimony collected by defense attorneys regarding the sexual activities of Bryant's accuser, saying that disclosure has been "extremely harmful" to their case.
"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," prosecutor Dana J. Easter wrote in the court filing.
Daniel N. Recht, former president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, said Wednesday that the motion may be a stalling tactic while the prosecution reexamines the case -- and that the judge is not likely to grant a delay. If their request is refused, he said, prosecutors will probably drop the case. "I think this is a desperate attempt by the prosecution to buy time to figure out if they want to pursue this or dismiss the case," Recht said. "I think the prosecution is reeling from the events of the last several days."
Craig Silverman, a former prosecutor in Denver, agreed with that analysis. He said the prosecution's request for a delay, coupled with the newly filed civil lawsuit, could signal the beginning of the end of the criminal case against Bryant. "It appears the prosecution joined this elaborate, well-orchestrated exit strategy from the criminal case," he said.
Attorneys in Bryant's case would not comment Wednesday on the prosecution's motion for delay or the civil lawsuit, citing a court order preventing them from speaking publicly about the proceedings.
Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has admitted to a sexual encounter with his accuser while staying at a resort near Vail, Colo., in June 2003 but has said it was consensual. The woman, now 20, was a resort employee.
The civil lawsuit she filed Tuesday mirrors the prosecution's case against the defendant. She contends that Bryant, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, groped her, blocked her from leaving his room, and bent her over a chair and violently forced her to have sex with him. The civil suit calls Bryant's conduct "willful, reckless, and intentional criminal conduct." It also alleges that he has a "history" of attempting to commit such acts, but it does not detail any.
If convicted of the criminal charges, Bryant could face four years to life in prison and fines in excess of $700,000. He could also be subject to 20 years' probation.
The criminal case against Bryant may have been complicated by recent developments. Bryant's legal team won a potentially important victory last month when the judge in the case, W. Terry Ruckriegle, ruled that evidence of the woman's alleged sexual activities in the days before her encounter with Bryant could be presented at his trial. Court officials also have repeatedly made mistakes releasing sealed information in the Bryant case. The accuser's name, which by Colorado law is supposed to remain private, has been posted on a court Web site, as have transcripts of a closed-door hearing that included intimate details about her.
In their filing for a trial delay, prosecutors said they were having a difficult time preparing their case, in part because they were not certain yet what kind of potentially damaging testimony about Bryant's accuser would be admitted.
Some legal analysts also say Bryant's accuser may have hurt the prosecution's case -- and damaged her credibility -- by filing a civil suit against him so close to the trial date. Jury selection is to begin Aug. 27.
"Now she can be attacked for having a motive to fabricate an assault," Recht said. "And what is that motive? Millions and millions of dollars she can receive in a civil trial."
Recht said Bryant's accuser could stand a better chance of holding him accountable for his alleged actions in civil court. A conviction in a criminal case requires a higher standard of proof of guilt.
In the civil suit, attorneys for the woman ask for a jury trial and say they will outline later the punitive damages they plan to seek from Bryant. They say she suffered emotional and physical pain from the alleged sexual assault and "public scorn, hatred and ridicule."
"The prosecution is going to be hard pressed to find a jury that would be willing to throw Kobe Bryant in prison," Recht said. "But in a civil case the jury will know that what's at stake is money and only money. And they know that what Kobe Bryant has is lots of money."
Special correspondent Kimberly Edds contributed to this report.