A different spotlight for Bryant's accuser
Woman once tried out for 'American Idol,' has lived
in 4 states in past 6 months amid furor over case
The Washington Post
EAGLE, Colo. - There is little doubt that the tall, blond young woman now labeled the "alleged victim" in the Kobe Bryant rape case once enjoyed the spotlight.
She sang, played the piano, acted in high school musicals and participated in talent shows. She even tried out early last year for the television show "American Idol," but didn't make the cut. She loved parties, attracted suitors and made friends easily. She seemed to thrive on being the center of attention, friends and acquaintances say.
But that was before she accused the Los Angeles Lakers guard and NBA superstar of sexually assaulting her in a Colorado hotel room, a decision that put her in a more notorious light. She has been harassed with death threats and obscene messages, stalked by private investigators and hounded by reporters.
The Washington Post and other media outlets have not published the woman's name or photograph because she is the alleged victim of a sex crime. But her name, picture, telephone number and e-mail address were widely circulated on the Internet immediately after Bryant was charged with third-degree felony sexual assault on July 18, 2003. Jury selection in the case began Friday in a rural central Colorado courtroom.
She dropped out of the University of Northern Colorado after one year. She has lived in four states in the past six months and has moved from job to job. Once outgoing and friendly, the young woman has tried for 14 months to fade into obscurity to no avail. Three men have been arrested for threatening her life.
"Her safety is at risk. . . . She can't live at home, she can't live with relatives, she can't go to school, or talk to her friends," the woman's mother wrote last spring in a letter to Colorado District Judge Terry Ruckriegle, pleading for a speedy trial.
"She can't go anywhere, even have a simple dinner with a friend," her mother wrote. "No one else involved in this case has had to make the life changes and compromises that my daughter has had to make and will need to continue to make until this case is over."
She played the piano for years and the flute in the middle school band. A longtime choir member, she performed in school productions of "Fiddler on the Roof" and "The Music Man." She was a varsity cheerleader for the football team, wearing the red, black and white uniform of the Eagle Valley Devils.
She enjoyed typical teenage activities: traveling to Denver with friends to see 'N Sync and Lauryn Hill concerts and spending a few weeks each summer at Lake Powell, Utah, on a houseboat owned by the family of one of her best friends.
"Sure she was a partier. What else is there to do in a small town like this?" said Sara Dabner, 18, a senior at Eagle Valley High School in nearby Gypsum. "But she was a very well-rounded, caring person."
In her senior picture, the young woman smiles broadly and gazes straight ahead, an 18-year-old looking forward to the next chapter of her life. Friends say she aspired to be a singer or perhaps a music teacher.
Now 20, her life is a story interrupted, marked forever by the June 30, 2003, encounter with Bryant at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera in Edwards, Colo. She was then a 19-year-old hotel clerk working a summer job; Bryant, 24 at the time, was a guest at the luxury lodge.
In a statement to a detective, the young woman said she went to Bryant's room at his request and willingly kissed and hugged him, but then tried to leave when he wanted to go farther. She said he then grabbed her by the neck, bent her over a chair and violated her as she cried and protested.
Bryant has disavowed her story, admitting he had sex with her but contending it was consensual. His defense attorneys have introduced information during pretrial hearings about the woman's personal life, alleged drug use and two suicide attempts, which they said were efforts to gain attention from a former boyfriend. Both incidents occurred when she was a college freshman, in the four-month period before she met Bryant.
Published reports have said that the University of Northern Colorado campus police responded to a call at the accuser's dormitory in February 2003 and took her to a hospital because she was a "danger to herself." Several friends also said in newspaper interviews that the woman overdosed on sleeping pills a few months later on May 30 when she was home, although they disagreed over whether the incident was intentional or accidental. Those incidents were discussed in defense motions filed last year.
In a preliminary court hearing last year, Pamela Mackey, the lead defense attorney, brought up the alleged victim's sexual activity. Mackey implied that genital injuries the woman sustained and a DNA analysis show the woman may have had sex with other men after her encounter with Bryant. The woman's lawyers denied that allegation.
Bryant's attorneys, legal analysts say, are trying to paint Bryant's accuser as a sexually promiscuous and mentally unstable woman whose credibility is questionable.
Although Ruckriegle ruled that evidence about the woman's psychological history cannot be presented at trial, he will allow defense lawyers to probe the accuser's sexual activity in the three days surrounding her hotel room encounter with Bryant.
If convicted of felony sexual assault, Bryant, 26, could be sentenced to four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, plus a fine of up to $750,000. He would have to register in Colorado as a sex offender. A conviction would void his new $136 million contract with the Lakers.
The accuser's personal attorney, John Clune, declined a request to interview his client and refused to discuss the case. The woman's father also declined to comment, saying wearily but politely as he stood at the door of the family's two-story gray frame home, "We're not returning phone calls. We just have no comment."
Jennifer Bliss, 29, said of this friendly town of 3,700 people: "It's like six degrees of separation here. I don't know her personally, but I certainly know people who know her. It's a pretty small town, and this has had a big impact."
No one knows that better than the young woman who once hoped to dominate a stage and play to the crowd.
"This is not the kind of spotlight she wanted," said Ashley Scriver, 20, who said she and the woman have been "best friends since we were in sixth grade."
"It's ruined her chance to be in the kind of spotlight she wanted to be in," Scriver said. "Nobody would purposely get themselves into something like this."
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