The judge in the Kobe Bryant rape case Friday refused a request to delay the start of the trial, setting up a critical decision for prosecutors as to whether they should now drop the felony charge against the basketball star.
Colorado Judge W. Terry Ruckriegle ruled that there is no legal basis for the motion filed by the prosecution this week asking for an "indefinite" delay of the trial date. Jury selection for the criminal trial is to open Aug. 27. But the judge sided with prosecutors in two other rulings relating to the woman's medical history and her use of alcohol and drugs.
In one ruling, Ruckriegle denied defense requests to admit evidence about two purported suicide attempts by the victim before her encounter with Bryant and about her use of prescription medications. In the other ruling, he granted prosecution requests to limit testimony about the woman's medical and mental health history and any drug and alcohol use, wire services reported.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert's office did not respond Friday to the judge's decision. The prosecutor argued in his motion seeking a delay that potential jurors may have been prejudiced by the public release of court documents that might be used to impeach the credibility of the woman who has accused Bryant of rape.
Beyond that, several recent rulings have undermined the prosecution's case against Bryant. A key reversal was the judge's decision last month that evidence can be presented suggesting that Bryant's accuser may have had sex with other men shortly before and after her encounter with Bryant.
Mistakes by the court staff have made public private information about the accuser, prompting an angry letter of complaint to the judge from the woman's father. All of that has prompted speculation in the legal community here that Hurlbert might drop the charges against Bryant, or that the alleged victim might decide not to proceed with a criminal case.
If the criminal charge goes to trial, she will have to testify and face cross-examination about some of her sexual history. Bryant's attorneys have made it clear for months that their chief strategy at the trial will be an aggressive attack on her credibility and morality. The accuser, 20, this week filed a civil suit against Bryant.
Unlike a criminal trial, that suit could be settled privately, with no court appearances required.
"With all the recent developments that have undermined the prosecution's case, the D.A. clearly has to decide now whether it is worth the trouble to go ahead with a felony trial," Craig Silverman, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor in Denver, said recently. "It is not unthinkable that they would conclude the best course is to drop the case."
Before Friday's ruling on the motion to delay, prosecutors had said repeatedly that they intend to take the case to trial and that the alleged victim is ready to testify.
She was a desk clerk at a Rocky Mountain resort last summer when Bryant checked in. Both Bryant and the woman agree that he invited her to his room, and sexual intercourse ensued. He says it was consensual. She told police that the Los Angeles Lakers' star gripped her by the neck, bent her over a chair and violated her as she cried, "No."
If convicted, Bryant faces years of strictly supervised probation or four years to life in prison.
His new $136 million contract with the Lakers would be voided by a felony conviction.