The seemingly abrupt collapse of the Kobe Bryant rape case Wednesday night was actually the result of extensive negotiations that had been underway even as hundreds of potential jurors gathered at the courthouse here, lawyers said.
The negotiations included the wording of Bryant's statement in which he apologized to his accuser, and which his lawyers told ESPN was "a price of freedom."
A Colorado judge dropped the rape charge against the Los Angeles Lakers star after prosecutor Mark Hurlbert said the alleged victim would not testify. The decision ended one of the most high-profile cases involving a celebrity defendant in years, although a civil suit filed by the woman last month in which she is seeking money from Bryant is still pending.
After the judge's decision, Bryant issued a statement to reporters that was distributed not by his defense attorneys but by his accuser's personal attorney, L. Lin Wood. In it, Bryant said: "I do not question the motives of this young woman. . . . I now understand that she sincerely feels" that she was a victim of rape.
Attorneys for Bryant and the woman did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday. But two of Bryant's attorneys, Pamela Mackey and Hal Haddon, said in a statement to ESPN that the accuser "insisted on that statement as a price of freedom."
Bryant's apology was in marked contrast to the many filings by his attorneys in the case. They mounted a vigorous attack on the woman, challenging her credibility, questioning her mental stability and persuading the judge to allow evidence of her sexual activity in the days surrounding her encounter with Bryant to be admitted at trial.
At various points in the case, the Bryant attorneys said the woman, 20, had brought the charge to make her boyfriend jealous, to extort a financial payment from the millionaire athlete or simply "to get attention."
But on Wednesday, as the parties were agreeing that the criminal charge should be dismissed "with prejudice" -- meaning that prosecutors can never file the charge again -- the Bryant team changed its tone. In his apology to the woman, the athlete, 26, expressed his sorrow about "the pain she has had to endure."
Bryant, who had an impeccable reputation on and off the basketball court before the case, has conceded that he had sex with the woman but insisted that it was consensual. In his statement, he said: "Although I truly believe this . . . was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did."
John Clune, one of the alleged victim's personal attorneys, specifically denied in court Wednesday that "there is a relationship to the civil case, or any dollars being exchanged in consideration for the motion" to dismiss the criminal charge. Under Colorado's witness-tampering law, it could be illegal for someone to offer money in return for the silence of a witness in a criminal case.
Bryant's statement Wednesday suggested that the civil case is likely to be resolved by lawyers before it ever gets to court. "That part of this case will be decided by and between the parties directly involved in the incident," Bryant said, "and will no longer be a financial or emotional drain on the citizens of Colorado."
Lawyers who have followed the Bryant case said a settlement is likely.
"For one thing, most civil cases settle before trial," said Craig Silverman, a Denver defense lawyer and former prosecutor. "In this case, both sides have a lot to lose if they have to sit on the witness stand in federal court. And what might be a lot of money for the woman might not amount to much for a multimillionaire athlete. So everybody has a motive to get it over with."
Lawyers for the alleged victim said she was deeply concerned when the judge in the criminal case ruled that some of her sexual history could be presented to the jury at trial. And in a civil case, much more of her background would be fair game for Bryant's attorneys.
As for Bryant, he would be required to testify in a civil trial, with no right against self-incrimination now that the criminal charge has been dismissed. The picture that would emerge from cross-examination might not be flattering. According to Bryant's version of the incident, he picked up a woman he had never met from a hotel lobby and had sex with her less than 15 minutes later.