Kobe Judge Sets Plea Date

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant celebrates after assisting teammate Shaquille O'Neal in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of a first-round NBA Western Conference playoff series against the Houston Rockets in Los Angeles, Wednesday, April 28, 2004. Bryant scored 31 points in the Lakers' 97-78 victory. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) AP

NBA superstar Kobe Bryant will enter a plea in May, nearly 10 months after he was formally charged with sexual assault.

Wednesday was Bryant's day in court and on the court.

After spending the day in the Eagle, Colo., courtroom, he flew to Los Angeles in time to make it onto basketball court for that night's playoff game against the Houston Rockets, reports CBS News Correspondent Steve Futterman. Bryant not only played, he was the star of the game, scoring 31 points, six rebounds and 10 assists as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Houston Rockets 97-78 to win their first-round series 4-1.

Bryant may be faced with a similar situation in two weeks, when the next hearing.

State District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said Wednesday Bryant will enter his plea sometime during a three-day hearing that starts May 10. Under state law, the trial must begin within six months after that, unless Bryant waives his right to a speedy process.

The alleged victim's attorney and mother asked the judge last month to set a trial date soon. They said the 19-year-old woman has been threatened with death and sexual assault, hounded by the media and tracked by defense investigators.

"I think it's very heartening that (her) plea was taken seriously," said Cynthia Stone, spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

"The connotation here is that the system understands how difficult this can be for a victim, and in this instance it's going to try to mitigate some of that," she said.

Both sides told the judge the earliest they could be ready for trial is late August or early September.

"We're ready, willing and able to try it when the court believes it's time," defense attorney Hal Haddon said.

Bryant, 25, is accused of raping the woman last June at a Vail-area resort where she worked. He has said the two had consensual sex.

Bryant was formally charged with felony sexual assault on July 18. He would face four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation if convicted.

Bryant seemed to put it, and the grueling commute — three round-trip flights to Colorado in as many days — behind him in the playoff game.

"When I get on a basketball court, something just energizes about the game. It's just fun to play."

Looking worn and surrounded by bodyguards, Bryant showed up at Staples Center 26 minutes before the opening tipoff.

He had by far his best game of the postseason, shooting 12-of-21, along with 6-of-6 from the foul line, while committing only one turnover in 41 minutes.

He shot 33.8 percent in the first four games of the series.

"A lot of people will remember 31 points, but I'll remember that he's been doing a lot of traveling in a short period of time," teammate Karl Malone said. "You put that ball in his hand, and he's ready to play. And that's what it's all about."

Bryant said he was more tired than he'd ever been while playing a game and didn't plan to get off his couch on Thursday.

"In the car on the way over, I just felt so tired. I didn't want to go to sleep," he said, explaining that would have made him sluggish after he awoke. "I tried to meditate on the way over."

Judge Ruckriegle said he would have liked to have the Los Angeles Lakers star enter a plea Wednesday. But he said he needed to give the media time to file a request to have a camera in the courtroom.

"We saw significant progress and serious light at the end of this tunnel," said former prosecutor Craig Silverman, who is following the case.

Ruckriegle wrapped up a three-day pretrial hearing Wednesday without resolving two key issues: Whether the accuser's sexual history can be used against her at trial and a defense request to dismiss evidence that includes a hospital exam of the NBA star.

More than 2½ days of the hearing were held behind closed doors, with sheriff's investigators, a nurse and others trooping into the courtroom to testify.

The judge said hearings on the relevance of the woman's medical and mental health history, and any evidence of alcohol or drug use, will be closed. He rejected suggested alternatives from media groups, including open-court discussions without specific details.
  • Lauren Johnston

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