On one point, both sides agree: The sexual encounter in Kobe Bryant's hotel suite was over in a matter of minutes.
But that episode on a summer night in the Colorado mountains 14 months ago has spawned a hugely complex and expensive legal marathon surrounding the single felony charge of sexual assault that could send the Los Angeles Lakers star to prison for life.
Already, the convoluted criminal action has sparked hundreds of motions and months of arguments involving an army of lawyers, investigators and hired experts. The case of People v. Kobe Bean Bryant has gone to the Colorado Supreme Court three times and the U.S. Supreme Court once.
Now, the trial is set to begin. Potential jurors have been ordered to report Friday to the small rural courthouse in this mountain village, and testimony should start next month.
A sprawling tent city -- known to locals as "Camp Kobe" -- has sprung up around the courthouse as the news media prepare for another manifestation of that uniquely American phenomenon, the celebrity trial.
The judge ruled this week that most of the trial cannot be televised, but every major network has analysts standing by to report each hour's developments. Even Marcia Clark, the prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson trial, is on hand as a television correspondent.
Lawyers following the case agree that it is most likely to turn on the testimony of Bryant's 20-year-old accuser, noting that the defense team has prevailed on several key points. When the accuser takes the witness stand, the defense will have considerable leeway to dig into her veracity, her personal life and some of her sexual history.
If the woman is credible and sympathetic, their tactics might backfire on Bryant. But if she does not stand up to the questioning, Bryant could go back to the other court in his life as a free man.
The hostility between prosecutors and defense lawyers in the hard-fought case was evident in court here Thursday as prosecutors argued that the findings of a defense DNA expert must be ignored because lab samples were "contaminated."
Defense attorneys responded that this was "a bogus issue designed to confuse the jury." Sounding weary, Judge Terry Ruckriegle asked for further briefs on the question but refused to delay Friday's first day of jury selection.
While the stakes are high for Bryant, the case has already had "a devastating impact" on the Eagle woman who brought the charge, her father said. Bryant's attorneys have made it clear that they intend an aggressive attack on her credibility and morality; in a series of court documents released to the public, they have described the woman as sexually voracious, mentally unstable and addicted to drugs.
Despite a Colorado law designed to protect the privacy of alleged rape victims, defense attorneys have used her name in open court, and it has been reported nationally. Her mother says the woman has been followed since the case began by journalists and by private investigators hired by the defense. She dropped out of college and moved to four different states in a futile attempt to avoid such scrutiny. She has been subjected to harassing calls and letters and countless threats; three men have been jailed so far for threatening her life.
"There is not much good in this case," notes Cynthia Stone of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "But one useful point is that it demonstrates what happens to women in this country who have the courage to report a rape. The defense strategy is to smear her, to intimidate her, to put her on trial rather than the defendant. We have laws that are supposed to prevent that, but it still happens."
At the prosecutor's request, Ruckriegle has ordered that evidence about the woman's psychological history cannot be presented at trial. But the judge ruled that defense attorneys can examine the accuser's sexual activity in the three days surrounding her hotel-room encounter with Bryant.
Prosecutors argued that this decision violates Colorado's "rape shield" law -- which considers an accuser's sexual history "presumptively irrelevant" -- but the state Supreme Court ruled that the evidence can be used.
With all the turmoil surrounding her, there have been suggestions that Bryant's accuser might decide at the last minute not to cooperate with the prosecution, a move that would make conviction unlikely, legal experts say. Two weeks ago, the woman filed a civil suit against Bryant in federal court; some observers guessed that this step might be part of an "exit strategy" to terminate the criminal case.
But Krista Flannigan, the prosecutor's spokeswoman, said the trial will proceed and the woman will prove to be a "strong witness" against Bryant.
According to Eagle County sheriff's deputies who have interviewed her, the accuser has set forth a detailed and graphic account of what happened when she met the National Basketball Association star on the evening of June 30, 2003.
Bryant, 26, had come to Eagle County for orthopedic surgery at a clinic in the ski resort of Vail. He booked rooms for himself and two bodyguards at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, a $350-per-night resort on a high bluff overlooking Edwards, an Eagle County community about 110 miles west of Denver.
The woman had a summer job as a desk clerk at the hotel. According to the deputies, the woman recalled that Bryant asked her to come to his room, whispering so that his bodyguards could not overhear. She said the couple engaged in "mutual flirting." He asked her to pull up her dress to show him a tattoo on her lower back, and she complied. He asked her to join him in the hot tub, and she declined.
The woman told police that she did not initially resist when Bryant hugged and kissed her. But then, she reported, the 6-foot-6 athlete gripped her by the neck, bent her over a chair, and raped her violently while she wept and repeatedly said "No."
The woman told investigators that Bryant warned her forcefully not to tell anyone what had happened.
Bryant's version of that night is different. When authorities in Eagle first reported the sexual assault, he told reporters in Los Angeles. "You fellows know I wouldn't do anything like that." Two days later, Bryant held a news conference, with his wife at his side, to say that he did have sex with the woman in his suite. But he said the encounter was consensual, and he was not guilty of a crime. "I am guilty of adultery," Bryant said.
In preliminary hearings and motions, a variety of evidence has emerged. The morning after the encounter, the woman went to the sheriff's office to report that she was raped. She was taken to the hospital, where a nurse found evidence of vaginal injuries "not consistent with consensual sex," the sheriff's office reported.
The hospital examination revealed Bryant's semen in the woman's underwear, as well as traces of semen from another man or men, a sheriff's deputy testified.
Deputies spoke to Bryant the next day. The interview was taped. Bryant's lawyers fought for months to suppress it, but the judge has ruled that the tape can be played at the trial.
Craig Silverman, a former prosecutor who has followed the Bryant case closely, speculates that "the tape may show Kobe denying that anything happened in the room. And if that's what he said, it could suggest a knowledge of guilt on his part."
The police seized a T-shirt that Bryant had been wearing when the woman came to his room, and they reported that the woman's bloodstains were found on it. Over strong defense objections, Judge Ruckriegle ruled that this, too, can be presented to the jury.
A key element in many rape cases is the testimony of "outcry" witnesses -- that is, people who saw the alleged victim immediately after the encounter.
The accuser's boss at the hotel said the young woman showed no emotion when she returned to the front desk. But a bellboy in the hotel said the woman wept and told him in horrified tones that she had been raped by Bryant. The defense says the bellboy was a boyfriend of the woman's and she was hoping to make him jealous.
After studying the case for weeks, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert filed a single charge of third-degree felony sexual assault against the basketball star. Prosecutors allege that Bryant "caused submission of the victim through . . . physical force or physical violence."
If convicted, Bryant will face penalties ranging from 20 years of closely supervised probation to a prison term that could run from four years to life. He would have to register in Colorado as a sex offender. The conviction would void his new $136 million contract with the Lakers and presumably end the endorsement contracts that reportedly bring him tens of millions of dollars annually.
The dusty county seat of Eagle is bracing for a global media invasion. "I never knew there were that many reporters in the world," said Kim Andree, a clerk in the sheriff's office, looking out over the media's tent city. More than 400 journalists have asked for credentials, but Eagle County's biggest courtroom has only 22 seats for reporters.
Children sell lemonade on the courthouse lawn, and a print shop down the street is charging $20 a day for parking in a town that has two stoplights and no parking meters.
Bryant and his entourage -- he is generally accompanied here by three bodyguards, his financial agent, three lawyers and assorted investigators -- have stunned the people of Eagle, a town of 3,500 with an aging four-block main street and clusters of double-wide mobile homes at the edges.
When newspapers reported that Bryant had bought his wife a $4 million diamond ring as a peace offering, then-Mayor Roxie Deane said: "Four million dollars -- that's about twice as much as the annual budget for this whole town!"
Ruckriegle's district court, which is more accustomed to cases of drunken driving or reckless skiing, clearly has been overwhelmed by the demands of a celebrity rape trial played out before a worldwide audience. Virtually every motion in the case requires briefs and arguments from four sets of lawyers -- the prosecution, the defense, the alleged victim's personal attorneys, and lawyers for various media interests.
The court staff has made several mistakes, inadvertently releasing the alleged victim's name at least three times and failing to seal the transcripts of closed-door hearings that concerned intimate sexual matters.
When a court official sent sealed transcripts to seven news organizations by mistake, the Colorado Supreme Court issued an unprecedented order directing newspapers not to publish the information they had legally obtained. On appeal, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer intervened and the material was allowed to be published.
Hal Haddon -- leaves the Eagle County Courthouse after a pretrial hearing.