Prosecutors in the Kobe Bryant case will be able to present key pieces of evidence at the NBA star's trial on sexual assault charges next month.
The judge's ruling denies defense motions to suppress evidence, including a secretly tape-recorded 75-minute interrogation of Bryant with him occasionally crying, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Frank. The tape recording will be allowed at trial, along with a blood-stained T-shirt, blue nylon Nike track pants and a pair of Bryant's boxer shorts. Some evidence being thrown out is from Bryant's hospital exam — improperly done at night despite his objections.
Bryant's attorneys said the material was gathered while he was illegally in custody, but the judge disagreed.
District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said Bryant cooperated with detectives until they said they wanted him to undergo a medical examination.
"Prosecutors needed to win this battle to have any sort of a chance at a conviction at trial, and while this isn't a complete victory, it's fairly close," says CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "It gives them a chance to use Bryant's own words to try to convince jurors that he had something to hide."
However, "I think the defense will be able to explain" any discrepancies in what Bryant said on the recording, said CBS News Early Show Legal Analyst Mickey Sherman. "We always lie about having affairs with people."
"We're pleased with the ruling and we consider it an important ruling," prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said.
After-hours calls left with the Denver-based defense team were not immediately returned.
Bryant has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault and faces an Aug. 27 trial. He has said he had consensual sex with an employee, now 20, at the Vail-area resort where she worked last summer.
If convicted, Bryant faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine of up to $750,000.
Meanwhile, Bryant could announce as early as Thursday whether he will stay with the Los Angeles Lakers or sign with another team, reports CBS News Correspondent Steve Futterman. The Lakers hope to kee him.
"We're hopeful that he will re-sign but we don't know even that," said team general manager Mitch Kupchak. "We've done everything we can do."
The Lakers allowed another high-profile free agent, Shaquille O'Neal, to bolt to Miami. He and Bryant have feuded for years, and many believe Bryant indicated to the Lakers that he would leave if O'Neal stayed.
Bryant's attorneys have long criticized the Eagle County sheriff's office, saying investigators improperly questioned Bryant and botched the execution of a court order to gather evidence last July.
Prosecutors had argued in favor of submitting the medical exam and the rest of the evidence, saying that it was collected with Bryant's consent the night after the alleged attack.
During a hearing in February, lead investigator Doug Winters acknowledged that Bryant's hospital examination violated Colorado court rules.
Winters and his partner had obtained a type of warrant for "non-testimonial evidence," which usually involves taking samples of hair and fibers. It must be executed during daylight hours to prevent the government from unnecessarily invading the privacy of citizens.
Bryant's exam was performed before dawn at a Glenwood Springs hospital. The results have not been disclosed.
The judge said a tape recording of the interview with Bryant did not indicate whether the NBA star consented to a hospital exam. But he said an audio expert concluded that Bryant had balked at the request.
"The detective then instructed, 'I have a court order so it doesn't matter whether you consent or not,'" the judge wrote. "The court finds that Mr. Bryant was 'in custody' starting from" that moment — and should have thus been advised of his Miranda rights. By that point, however, Bryant had already spoken with investigators and given them the clothing.
The judge's rulings Wednesday aren't fatal for Bryant's defense, says Cohen.
"A lot of this evidence is ambiguous enough so that Bryant's attorneys will be able to at least try to spin it their way," he says. "For example, there is no dispute in this case that the pair had sex, which means a lot of physical evidence of sex won't necessarily incriminate Bryant."
Also Wednesday, Ruckriegle extended what he called a "plea negotiation deadline" until Tuesday because of his order.
Still to come is the judge's decision on what information about the alleged victim's sexual history will be allowed at the trial, reports Rick Sallinger of CBS station KCNC. The trial is set to begin just over six weeks from now.