Prosecutors in the Kobe Bryant rape trial suffered another setback Monday when the Colorado Supreme Court said it would not hear an appeal from the state seeking to prevent details of the accuser's sex life from being heard by the jury.
The trial judge, Terry Ruckriegle, ruled last month that the basketball star's attorneys can use information about the woman's sexual activity in the three days prior to her hospital exam, which occurred about 15 hours after the alleged attack.
Monday's court decision fueled new speculation that Bryant's accuser might decide not to proceed with the criminal case. The woman's attorneys have said recently that she has lost faith in the criminal justice system. If she does not cooperate, legal analysts said prosecutors would probably have to drop the charges, and Bryant would be free.
But Krista Flannigan, spokeswoman for District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, said Monday that prosecutors still intend to go ahead with the felony case against Bryant. Jury selection is scheduled to begin in 12 days, with the actual trial expected to start in early September.
At an evidentiary hearing in Eagle County's small rural courthouse Monday morning, defense and prosecution lawyers and Ruckriegle all indicated they expect the criminal trial to go ahead as scheduled. Legal analysts watching the pretrial developments said, however, that the future of the high-profile case now depends on the willingness of the alleged victim to participate in the trial.
"I think the key decision now is going to be made by the accuser and her lawyers," said Craig Silverman, a criminal lawyer and former prosecutor. "You could certainly make the case that it would be in her interest to drop out of the criminal trial and pursue her civil case against Kobe instead."
Last week, the woman filed a civil suit against Bryant, seeking at least $75,000 in damages for the physical and mental stress she says she has suffered since her encounter with the Los Angeles Lakers player in a Colorado resort hotel in June 2003.
Prosecutors last week also sought an indefinite delay in the trial, but Ruckriegle refused to grant it.
Bryant has conceded that he had sex with the woman in his hotel suite but says it was consensual.
If convicted, Bryant could face penalties ranging from years of strictly supervised probation to life in prison. His new $136 million contract with the Lakers would be voided by a felony conviction.
Defense lawyers have made it clear that their chief strategy at trial will be an attack on the accuser's morality and credibility. They asked the judge to allow the introduction of evidence about the woman's sexual history, despite a "rape shield" law designed to protect alleged sexual assault victims from embarrassment. Ruckriegle ruled last month that defense lawyers could probe any sexual activity the woman had two days prior and within hours after the alleged rape.
Prosecutors appealed that ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court, arguing that it vitiates the "rape shield" law's protections. But the court said Monday the appeal did not meet the standards for pretrial appeals, and refused to reverse the trial judge's decision.
Although Ruckriegle ruled that some of the woman's sexual history can be presented to the jury, he decided last week that defense lawyers cannot use any evidence suggesting that the woman has had mental or drug abuse problems. That limitation might make the woman more willing to proceed with the criminal trial and testify against Bryant, some analysts said.
"Everything we've been told is that this is a strong, determined woman who wants to see her assailant brought to justice," noted Norm Early, a former Denver prosecutor. "So my guess is that she will testify, and will be an effective witness for the prosecution."