Bryant sat stone-faced during a preliminary hearing Thursday as the woman's story of a flirtatious encounter gone bad came out for the first time. There were graphic details of Bryant grabbing her by the neck, bending her over a chair and attacking her at the posh mountain resort where she worked.
"You're not going to tell anybody about this, right?" he allegedly asked the woman repeatedly during five minutes of sex. Before allowing her to leave, she told police, Bryant forced her down and made her kiss his penis.
Bryant's attorney, Pamela Mackey, tried to show the woman's story was just that — a story. She used the woman's name six different times, and at one point suggested that her injuries might be "consistent with a person who has had sex with three different men in three days."
That drew a quick recess from Judge Frederick Gannett, but also gave an early taste of what could likely turn into a messy and nasty trial when it is finally held sometime next year.
"The defense threw some serious mud, and now we will see if it sticks," said former prosecutor Craig Silverman, now a Denver defense attorney.
While most of the attention was focused on the woman's version of the encounter she had with Bryant the night of June 30 at the Cordillera Lodge & Spa, Mackey managed to poke some holes in the testimony of Eagle County Sheriff's Detective Doug Winters.
Winters was the only witness during the hearing, which will resume next Wednesday with Bryant present. Sometime after the end of the hearing Gannett will decide whether there is enough probable cause to order Bryant to trial on sexual assault charges — something legal experts believe is a mere formality.
But it was clear right away that winning a preliminary hearing — where prosecutors need to show only that there is probable evidence for trial — and winning the trial itself are two different things. And Mackey not only got Winters to contradict some testimony in a brief cross-examination, but also got an opportunity to see how he will stand up during trial.
Winters seemed sure of himself when questioned by prosecutors, but wasn't so sharp when Mackey had her shot. At one point she asked Winters whether he had seen a bruise on the woman's neck allegedly caused by Bryant when he interviewed her the day after the incident.
"She talks on how Mr. Kobe Bryant grabbed her neck and choked her," Mackey told Winters. "You looked at her neck to see?"
Winters said he had, then Mackey asked him if he saw any injuries on her neck.
"Not from the front, no," he said.
"Not a red mark?" she asked.
"That's correct," he said.
"Not a scratch?"
Most legal experts had predicted the defense would skip the hearing and go to trial to keep details of the alleged assault from being made public. The details got out, but the defense also gained some valuable knowledge of how the prosecution will try the case.
Winters "committed himself to a lot of 'I don't knows' and 'I believes,"' Eagle defense attorney Jim Fahrenholtz said. "There's no way he'll have better knowledge of it at trial."
Outside of Winters, most of the prosecution's case will center on the testimony of the woman. The only other direct witnesses identified so far are a bellman who told the woman to report the incident and a nurse who treats rape victims.
Still, much of the day's testimony was terribly damaging to the reputation of Bryant, 25, who could face life in prison if he is convicted.
Winters described in graphic detail for a packed courtroom how the 19-year-old woman said an exciting, chance meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers' superstar led to a nightmarish assault that left her shaken and in tears.
She said she told Bryant "no" at least twice and he ignored her, pulling her dress up and her underwear down and raping her from behind.
At one point, the woman told police, Bryant forced her to face him and say "No" when he asked if she was going to tell anyone.
Bryant has insisted the sex was consensual. He sat at the defense table staring straight at Winters for much of the hearing, hands folded in front of him. Bryant occasionally clenched his jaw, but showed little other reaction.
Winters, the only witness of the afternoon, recounted what the woman told him in an hourlong interview the day after she met Bryant at the resort. It all began with a tour of the hotel that led to some flirting. She went back to Bryant's room and showed him a tattoo on her ankle, then turned down his request to join him in the hot tub, Winters said.
Her shift at the front desk was ending and she wanted to go home, he said, and "she was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable."
Winters said she stood up to leave and Bryant gave her a hug that led to some consensual kissing.
But when she turned to go, Bryant grabbed her by the neck, pulled up her black dress and raped her against a chair, Winters said. She told investigators she said "No" at least twice before bursting into tears as the five-minute attack went on.
Bryant wasn't holding her neck so tight she couldn't breathe, Winters said, but enough to control her movement.
"She was afraid that he was going to choke her," he said.
Afterward, Bryant told the woman to clean up, Winters said. She fixed her hair, wiped her face and left after again promising to remain silent.
She went back to the front desk to finish up her work and finally left the resort with an unidentified bellman, Winters said. She told him what happened and he urged her to report it, later following her home.
Winters testified that the woman's blood was found on the inside of Bryant's T-shirt, based on DNA tests. The woman told him she had bled from the attack, he said.
Bryant has the right to go to trial within six months of his arraignment, but he could agree to push that back until later, perhaps after the NBA season ends early next summer.
"I think they had to come out swinging," defense attorney Mickey Sherman told the CBS News Early Show. "I think the publicity, the negative spin that's been out there has been devastating and I think people's expectations of what the evidence was was a lot more than what we saw s yesterday.:
Former prosecutor Wendy Murphy, also appearing on the Early Show, disagreed, saying the result of Thursday's hearing "is a very ugly picture of Kobe Bryant and I think the public picture of him has changed dramatically."