He Said, She Said ...

<B>Susan Spencer</B> Reports On Colorado's Sexual Assault Law

Five years ago, a 19 year-old college sophomore – on a full academic scholarship, with no criminal record – found himself in a situation almost identical to what Kobe Bryant faces today.

48 Hours agreed not to identify him by name, but now, his every move is closely monitored by prison guards.

"Each day in this place gets harder and harder," he says. "At no time during the intercourse did she ever say stop or did she ever say no."

But that's not how former prosecutor, Karen Steinhauser, remembers the victim's story: "She said, 'I don't want to have sex with you.'"

Like Bryant's case, this one was a he-said/she-said situation. And it shows what can happen under Colorado's tough 3-year-old sexual assault law.

Back in August 2000, this student was convicted of first-degree sexual assault. The sentence for this convicted rapist is 16 years to life, with no chance of parole until 2016. Correspondent Susan Spencer updates this broadcast that first aired last fall.

"Acquaintance rape cases are by far the most difficult cases to prove," says Steinhauser, now a law professor. "But the bottom line with these statutes is that once a person says no, that's it."

Steinhauser predicted that Bryant's defense would try to blame the accuser. That's how this case played out.

The victim, who we'll call "Sally," declined to talk publicly about what happened at the University of Denver in November 1999. She was a first year freshman, a straight A student, who had known her assailant for about two months.

"They were friends, they studied together, they were in some of the same classes together," says Steinhauser.

The assault happened after a party in her dorm. There was drinking and marijuana involved. Later in Sally's room, Steinhauser said the two of them kissed. Then, Sally changed into a negligee, and the only thing underneath was her underwear.

"He had asked her if she would like a backrub. She said yes. She took off her nightgown and laid on her bed," says Steinhauser. "When he attempted to have intercourse with her, she said no. From there, he sexually assaulted her. He raped her."

The student said Sally said no in the beginning, "but when we actually ended up having intercourse, she gave her consent."

He says her exact words were, "I'm a big girl. I wouldn't do anything I didn't want to do."

But what hurt his story, and what could hurt Kobe Bryant as well, was a so-called "outcry witness." Sally told a friend what had happened.

"The friend testified that when he opened the door, that she was crying so hard that she could hardly speak," says Steinhauser. "She went in the shower for about 45 minutes. After about an hour or so the police came."

Denver traffic engineer Mike Gill was a juror, and the jury deliberated for three days: "It just came down to which story fit, you know, which, what was the more believable story."

"It would basically come down to being her word against mine," says the student. "Basically, I'm serving a life sentence."

In Colorado, any sentence on a sex assault charge means the possibility of life in prison. But whether or not someone actually gets life may rest on a battery of very thorough tests that every sex offender must take.

One test, called a plethismograph, can measure deviant thoughts. Offenders listen to an explicit audio track at the same time they are shown innocent pictures of adults and children. Judges weight the results in sentencing and parole boards use them to determine if an offender is a threat to society.

"The Colorado sexual assault laws have been described as being Draconian, and I believe that it is," says Denver Defense Attorney Bob Ransome, who believes the sentences are so long and that the law lumps all sex offenses together. "It's the pedophiles that the legislature wants to make sure are off the streets for a long time. That is understandable. Unfortunately, the net catches a lot of fish that shouldn't be in it."

But Steinhauser defends the law, saying it protects the public: "For many sexual perpetrators, the first time they are caught, the first time that they're punished, is not the first time they've ever committed a crime."

"I know in my heart that things are going to work out for the better," says the student, who is appealing his conviction and hopes a new trial will prove his innocence.

If not, he may have to admit guilt to ever get out of prison: "That would be a last resort."

Since 48 Hours first aired this broadcast last October, "Sally's" assailant has lost his appeals. He won't be getting a new trial. Now, he'll have to admit guilt to even have a chance for parole -- 12 years from now.

As for his victim, Steinhauser says that the Kobe case is "putting her through a nightmare again. She feels like she's reliving the whole things again."