Kobe Case Crumbles

L.A. Lakers' star Kobe Bryant leaves court at the Justice Center Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2004 in Eagle ,Colo. after a day of jury selection in his upcoming sexual assault trial. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
AP
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. She dropped out following a series of 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.

Bryant's statement was a condition of the woman withdrawing her testimony, his lawyers told ESPN for a story posted on its Web site Thursday. Defense attorneys Pamela Mackey and Hal Haddon told the sports network that the accuser "insisted on that statement as a price of freedom."

"Celebrity Justice" reporter Harvey Levin told CBS' Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen Bryant's statement resulted from a secret deal struck between Bryant and his accuser.

"This was done outside of the prosecutor's office," Levin said. "It was done secretly between Kobe Bryant's people and this woman's people, and they sat down and they hashed out terms that would allow the criminal case certainly to go away and arguably the civil case.

"This is a confidential agreement, but - we knew one of the terms was a letter of apology from Kobe Bryant to this woman and we know in the past the two sides have discussed financial compensation."

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.

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 re-filed.

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.

CBS News Reporter Rick Salinger reports Clune called it the worst suffering he had seen in the American justice system.

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."

The apology, Levin said, was carefully crafted by both sides.

In it, "Kobe is saying, 'Look, I don't believe I actually assaulted this woman, but if she believes I did, then I'm really sorry,'" Levin said. "That's essentially what he's saying.

"She wanted to feel as if he took some responsibility for what happened."

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.

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."