Rape case against Bryant dismissed
D.A. says accuser didn't want to proceed; experts
wonder if civil lawsuit might be near settlement
Sept. 2: District attorney Mark Hurlbert drops 14-month-old rape case against Kobe Bryant. NBC's Mark Mullen reports.
EAGLE, Colo. - The sexual assault charge against Kobe Bryant has been dropped, but his accuser — whose reluctance to participate derailed the criminal trial before it ever really got started — isn’t letting the NBA star off the hook just yet.
With jury selection under way, the criminal case was dropped late Wednesday by prosecutors who said the 20-year-old woman accusing Bryant of rape had decided not to participate. Her exit followed gaffes that led to the public disclosure of her name and other personal details, and prosecutors said they would not carry on without her testimony.
But the Los Angeles Lakers star still faces her federal civil lawsuit seeking unspecified damages. That case is still on, said L. Lin Wood, the woman’s attorney.
“There has been no settlement of the civil lawsuit, and there have been no discussions concerning a settlement,” he said.
The 26-year-old Los Angeles Lakers guard issued a written apology that stopped short of taking responsibility for his actions.
“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,” he said.
Prominent defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law School criminal law expert, said the sides might have made an "implicit" agreement on a settlement of the civil lawsuit, the Los Angeles Times said.
"A plaintiff cannot go to a defendant and say, 'If you pay me, I will drop the charges.' There can't be an explicit deal, but there may be an implicit one," he told the Times.
We are now involved in a very complicated game of chess," Dershowitz added. "It clearly is a negotiated statement. Not a word of that was written by Kobe. You can see the lawyers' hands all over that. It is very artfully done."
There have several previous cases in which the accused made a financial settlement with the accuser, i.e. singer Michael Jackson, who agreed to pay $15.3 million to a boy after being accused of molesting him in 1993, the Times said. The boy did not testify against Jackson.
In court, one of the Bryant accuser's lawyers, John Clune, said Bryant’s apology factored into her decision to drop out of the case. Defense attorneys Pamela Mackey and Hal Haddon said the accuser “insisted on that statement as a price of freedom,” according to a story posted on the ESPN network Web site Thursday.
Bryant tearfully admitted more than a year ago he had consensual sex with the then-19-year-old employee of a Vail-area resort where he stayed last summer. If convicted, the married father of a little girl could have faced four years to life in prison, or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.
Instead, prosecutors dropped the case after spending at least $200,000 preparing for trial. District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said he could have won the case, but he supported the woman’s decision to withdraw, with a stipulation that charges will never be refiled.
“Today justice is sadly interrupted. The casualty in this interruption has been a brave young woman who was grievously hurt,” Hurlbert said.
Victims’ rights groups said the way the case disintegrated could force states to take another look at rape-shield laws, which typically bar the sex life of an alleged assault victim from being admitted as evidence.
Wendy Murphy, a professor at the New England School of Law in Boston and a former prosecutor, said the case could shake many women’s faith in the justice system.
“The rules, the laws, the things that are supposed to make us treat each other with civility are a big joke, it doesn’t matter,” she said.
In this case, District Judge Terry Ruckriegle ruled that the woman’s sex life in the three days surrounding her encounter with Bryant could be admitted as evidence, which may have bolstered the defense contention that she slept with someone after leaving Bryant and before she went to a hospital exam — a potentially key blow to her credibility. The woman’s lawyers have denied the accusation.
And after mistakes that revealed her identity, at least two death threats and relentless media attention, she apparently had had enough.
“The difficulties that this case has imposed on this woman the past year are unimaginable,” said John Clune, one of her attorneys. He said she was particularly disturbed by mistakes including the release of her name on a state courts Web site and her medical history to attorneys.
Neither Bryant nor his accuser were in the courtroom as the judge threw out the case, blaming budget cuts in part for a lack of courthouse staff and the mistakes.
Outside the courthouse, Hurlbert said the decision to drop the case “is not based upon a lack of belief in the victim — she is an extremely credible and an extremely brave young woman.”
“A trial can be traumatic for any victim of any crime, more so with the victim of a sexual assault, and even more so with the victim of a sexual assault whose victimization has been subject to worldwide scrutiny,” the prosecutor said.
Bryant said the civil case against him “will be decided by and between the parties directly involved in the incident and will no longer be a financial or emotional drain on the citizens of the state of Colorado.”
“I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman,” Bryant said. “No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case.”
Larry Pozner, a former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said he did not think Bryant’s statement suggested an interest in settling the civil lawsuit.
“I would have guessed today would have been a global settlement (covering both cases),” he said. “If it isn’t, it’s because the defense has told them, ‘We aren’t paying you very much, and if you want to continue, bring it on.”’
The lawsuit, like the criminal case, accuses Bryant of attacking the woman in his room at the Cordillera resort near Edwards, causing her emotional and physical problems that linger to this day.
Prosecutors said Bryant flirted with the woman, a front desk employee, during a tour of the resort. After the two ended up in his room, they began to kiss, which she acknowledged was consensual. Investigators have said the encounter turned violent and that she told Bryant “no” at least twice.
In the civil suit, the attorneys said at some point during the kissing “Bryant’s voice became deeper and his acts became rougher” as he began to grope the woman. She asked him to stop, but Bryant allegedly blocked her exit, grabbed her and forced her over a chair to rape her. Bryant’s hands were around the woman’s neck, the attorneys said — “a perceived threat of potential strangulation if she resisted his advances.”
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