Kobe Bryant: Full Court Press

What Does Bryant's Accuser Want You To Know?

"There is no doubt in my mind that she has been taken advantage of by Kobe Bryant. There is no doubt in my mind that Kobe Bryant raped my friend," says JohnRay Strickland, who is talking to 48 Hours Investigates because his friend, Bryant's accuser, can't.

A court-imposed gag order says that no one directly involved in the case can speak publicly, but Strickland says that his friend knows that he's talking to 48 Hours Investigates. Correspondent Lesley Stahl reports.
Strickland is a 19-year-old college sophomore at the University of Northern Colorado. His friendship with Bryant's accuser began last spring after meeting at a party. Strickland says they dated for a while, and they remain close friends.

"She wanted somebody to come out and really stand up for her. And people have been really, really treating her like the bad guy in this, when she definitely is not," says Strickland. "She is really a victim in this. It's just she's been represented as an accuser, which is true. She is an accuser. But she, she is a victim as well."

That's exactly right, according to Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, who has charged Bryant, 25, with felony sexual assault. If he's convicted, the NBA superstar could face life in prison.

"I feel that after reviewing the evidence, after looking at the evidence, I can prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt," says Hurlbert.

48 Hours Investigates went undercover where the alleged rape took place, at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera. Kobe Bryant checked into the exclusive Colorado resort on June 30, and Strickland's 19-year-old friend was working the front desk as a receptionist that night.

She gave Bryant the standard tour of the spa. Then, Strickland says, Bryant invited her to his room, where she went willingly. At some point, sources say, he wound up with his hands around her neck, causing some injuries, pushed her down onto a bed or a couch in his room and then allegedly raped her.

"I'm innocent. You know, I didn't force her to do anything against her will. I'm innocent," said Bryant at a July news conference that surprised many since the conference was given just hours after the Eagle District attorney filed charges against the NBA star.

At the news conference, Vanessa, Bryant's 21-year-old wife, was at her husband's side, where she has remained since the incident. But Bryant shocked everyone when he admitted one thing: "I sit here in front of you guys furious at myself, disgusted at myself for making a mistake of adultery."

Bryant and his lawyer, Pamela Mackey, are vowing to fight the charges all the way. Both are under the gag order and refused our request for an interview.

"I do not believe the charges should have been filed in this case," says Mackey. "The evidence does not support it."
"These cases, acquaintance rape cases more than any other kind of crime, rise and fall on the candor and credibility of that young lady who is making the charge," says Linda Fairstein, a former prosecutor of sexual crimes in New York City, and a consultant to 48 Hours Investigates.

Fairstein has spoken with sources in Colorado who have seen the alleged victim's medical report. The report, she says, includes some evidence of bruising on the neck.

What about the medical exam? Did she go to the hospital the next day?

"Yes, she went to the hospital. She was examined by a nurse," says Fairstein. "There are reports that there are minor lacerations, vaginally."

But Fairstein says the medical report and other information suggest the internal injuries were not very serious: "There is no physician on the witness list. So I assume there was nothing serious enough."

In any case, Fairstein says that Bryant's defense team will undoubtedly have experts to dispute the meaning of any medical evidence. And they will only put their client on the stand if they need to.

"You know, he has no obligation to do anything," says Fairstein. "By human nature, people like to hear what they call both sides of the story."

But Fairstein says the jury will decide this case on the credibility of the accuser. And Bryant's attorneys will do everything they can to undermine it. They have already subpoenaed her unrelated medical records relating to possible suicide attempts.

"The mental history is entirely different from the sexual history. And yes, if they can uncover something that is evidence, and I assume they're looking for instability - and instability related to credibility - then they will certainly be able to cross-examine her about it," says Fairstein.

Strickland confirmed that his friend did try to commit suicide twice: "I think we have all moved on from that. And that was a dark time. And we had to go through that. And now we're through with it."

How does Strickland think his friend will do under the pressure?

"I think my friend is the strongest individual I've ever met. I think that she is actually getting stronger as the days go by," he says. "That things are just … she can handle the trial. She can handle this."
"Basketball will survive, but you know, this won't be one of its more fun years," says Los Angeles Times sports columnist Mark Heisler, who has known Kobe Bryant for years.

In fact, Heisler has known Kobe since his father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, was a professional basketball player himself. Then, Heisler covered the son, who went right from high school to a multi-million-dollar-a-year deal with the NBA, skipping college.

"I think ultimately it turned out it was the wrong decision. And I think that's what we're talking about now," says Heisler. "You know, a young guy who even if he was ready for the basketball part of it, wasn't ready for the life part of it."

In seven seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant and his teammates have won three championships.

"He's a tremendous player. He's a gifted player. He's an exciting player. He's a wild player," says Heisler.

Bryant is a wild player who is paid roughly $12.5 million a year by the Los Angeles Lakers. He earns another $10 million to $12 million a year from endorsements. But none of his basketball success really matters now.

"I think he's basically just walled himself off. I think Kobe is more miserable now than he's ever been in his life," says Heisler. "The real tragedy for Kobe is that this is a guy who really meant to do the right thing. And to be the guy. And to be the role model."

But if this case goes to court and Bryant is convicted of sexual assault, the 25-year-old NBA star may spend the rest of his life in prison.

Does Strickland's friend want to see Bryant in jail? "My friend wants to see justice done. Whatever his, his sentence is. Anything. She just wants to see justice carried out," says Strickland.

Would she mind seeing him behind bars? "She wouldn't. I think she would love it … because of how scared she is of him," says Strickland. "She is terrified of him."

Part II: Full-Court Press
  • Rebecca Leung

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