The judge in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case ruled Friday that the accuser's sex life during the week of their encounter can be used against her at trial, a huge victory for the defense and perhaps the most important decision in the case.
District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said details of the woman's sexual activities in the three days before her July 1, 2003, hospital examination are relevant to help determine the cause of her injuries and the source of DNA evidence. He also said credibility was a factor.
"This is likely to rock the prosecution in this case," says CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "This is the most critical ruling of the case so far and it's a huge victory for Kobe Bryant."
The ruling is so "devastating," says Cohen, that prosecutors should.
Colorado's strict rape-shield law, which generally prevents the sex life of an alleged assault victim from being admitted as evidence, does not apply to all the information Bryant's lawyers wanted to introduce, the judge said.
He said was persuaded by the defense that "specific instances of sexual activity" and evidence of sex can be offered to bolster their contention that her injuries were not caused by Bryant.
In a thorough review of court documents, CBS News pieced together the likely basis of the defense case. In October, under aggressive questioning by attorney Pamela Mackey, lead detective Doug Winters admitted that:
In a later defense filing, Bryant attorney Hal Haddon argued that the soiled underwear "compellingly suggests" another sexual encounter after Bryant and before the rape exam 18 hours later.
A prosecution spokeswoman, Krista Flannigan, did not immediately return a call. John Clune, the woman's attorney, declined comment.
While the identity of the other man is unknown, the defense fought -- unsuccessfully -- for a DNA sample from the accuser's former boyfriend, Matt Herr, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker.
The defense theory: the cry of rape was a cry for attention from the ex-boyfriend. A former friend of Bryant's accuser told Whitaker the woman was obsessed with Matt Herr.
"There's a lot of things this girl has done to try and squeeze attention from Matt. And I don't know if this incident is one that she's trying to squeeze attention from everybody,'' said Laie Weatherwax.
Bryant, 25, faces an Aug. 27 trial on a single charge of felony sexual assault. He has pleaded not guilty, saying he had consensual sex last summer with the woman, then a 19-year-old front desk worker at a Vail-area resort.
If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.
"This ruling will make it much, much tougher for prosecutors to convict Bryant of sexual assualt,'' says legal analyst Cohen. "The physical evidence against him never was that strong to begin with and now this evidence is likely to tilt the 'he said, she said' battle squarely in Bryant's favor."
Added Cohen: "This makes it much more likely that this case will end short of trial and I think the judge is trying to lead both sides in that direction. After dealing prosecutors a terrible blow with this rape shield ruling, the judge also extended a plea negotiation deadline in the case -- it's almost as if he is encouraging prosecutors to be open-minded about a deal."