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Kobe Pleads Not Guilty

NBA Los Angeles Lakers' star Kobe Bryant leaves the Justice Center in Eagle, Colo., on Monday, May 10, 2004, during a lunch break for a pretrial hearing in Bryant's sexual assault case. (AP Photo/Helen D. Richardson, File)
AP
Nearly 11 months after his arrest, NBA star Kobe Bryant pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a rape charge that could land him in prison for life.

Standing impassively before state District Judge Terry Ruckriegle, Bryant said only four words during his brief arraignment.

"Yes sir," he said, bending slightly to speak into a microphone when asked if he understood the charge and potential penalty. Asked for his plea, he answered "not guilty" and sat down shortly afterward.

The judge adjourned the hearing moments later, saying he expected to set a trial date during a May 27 hearing. Bryant left, with plenty of time to fly back to Los Angeles for Tuesday night playoff game against San Antonio.

"The judge doesn't want to set a date yet because there is some forensic testing in the case that hasn't yet been completed and he doesn't want to set a date only to have to delay it because of a delay in getting those test results," says CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen.

The parents of the 19-year-old accuser watched the arraignment from the gallery, sitting about 20 feet from the Los Angeles Lakers star. As they walked out of the courtroom, they smiled and nodded at acquaintances.

The woman, who made a surprise appearance Monday to watch pretrial arguments, was not in attendance Tuesday.

"The judge seemed inclined to come up with a compromise that would prohibit prosecutors from describing the alleged victim in the case only as a 'victim.' He seems to be leaning toward agreeing with the defense that the word, alone, might presuppose Bryant's guilt before the jury deliberates," says Cohen.

Bryant, 25, has said he had consensual sex with the woman last summer at the Vail-area resort where she worked. If convicted of felony sexual assault, the married father of one would face four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation.

Ruckriegle chose to read Bryant the formal charge and penalties even though defense attorney Pamela Mackey waived Bryant's right to hear the details.

The last time Bryant spoke in open court was Aug. 6, when he said "No, sir" when asked whether he objected to giving up his right to have a preliminary hearing within 30 days.

The trial must be set within six months unless Bryant waives that right. Both sides have told the judge they think a trial would take two to three weeks.

Key issues remain unresolved before there can be a trial.

Earlier Tuesday, attorneys argued behind closed doors on a defense motion to use the accuser's sexual history against her. The defense contends injuries found during a hospital examination could have been caused by other sexual partners.

The defense also wants Bryant's statements to authorities, a T-shirt stained with the woman's blood and Bryant's hospital exam barred as evidence because of alleged missteps by authorities.

The quick pace of this week's pretrial hearing prompted the cancellation of a court session scheduled for Wednesday.