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Kobe Will Be Tried For Rape

Accompanied by security, L.A. Lakers' star Kobe Bryant heads to court for a continuation of his preliminary hearing in a sexual assault case at the Justice Center Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2003 in Eagle Colo.
AP
NBA star Kobe Bryant must stand trial on a charge of raping a 19-year-old resort worker, a judge ruled Monday, clearing the way for a celebrity trial the likes of which hasn't been seen since O.J. Simpson.

Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett said prosecutors presented enough evidence Bryant might have committed the crime June 30. The Los Angeles Lakers guard could face a life sentence if convicted.

His next appearance, in district court, is set for Nov. 10.

Although prosecutors got what they wanted, a trial, CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports they also got a stinging criticism from the judge, who, in an unusual move, characterized the prosecution's case as "weak."

And after that blistering defense attack on the prosecution's evidence during the preliminary hearing, some court observers say the Eagle County District Attorney is limping into trial, his case battered and weakened.

"I think the prosecution's case did take a heavy beating," prominent defense attorney Mickey Sherman told CBS. "We saw some pretty compelling evidence that's going to be very helpful for the defense at trial."

Bryant, 25, has said the sex was consensual. His attorneys suggested the woman's injuries came during sex with other men in the days before her encounter with Bryant at a posh resort in nearby Edwards.

The defense can appeal Gannett's ruling, but such appeals are rare, legal experts said.

At Bryant's first appearance in state district court he will be advised of his rights, of the charge and of the possible penalties. He could enter a plea during that hearing.

Unless Bryant waives his right to a speedy trial, the trial would be scheduled within six months of his plea.

Prosecutors in Colorado almost always succeed in persuading a judge to order a trial after a preliminary hearing because the standard of proof required is relatively low. Allegations are usually enough to advance the case to a higher court for trial, where the standard of proof is much higher.

Bryant's hearing was hardly a quick proceeding: It lasted for nearly two days and included graphic testimony about an encounter prosecutors say turned violent after flirting by both Bryant and his accuser.

Sheriff's Detective Doug Winters testified the woman told police that she went to Bryant's room at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera shortly after checking him and his two bodyguards in to the resort.

Winters testified that the woman told authorities that she and Bryant talked and began kissing. But according to Winters' testimony, she says that a few minutes later, Bryant grabbed her by the throat, bent her over a chair and raped her, asking her several times not to tell anybody.

According to Winters, the woman says she told Bryant "no" at least twice, and he stopped only after she pulled his hand off her neck.

The woman was left with vaginal tears consistent with assault and her blood was found on Bryant's shirt, Winters said.

But he acknowledged under cross-examination by defense attorney Pamela Mackey that the woman had sex with another man shortly before her encounter with Bryant. She also didn't tell Winters initially that she had said "no."

The defense argued that the semen and pubic hair found in the woman's underwear that wasn't from Bryant proves he is innocent of rape — an argument ridiculed by prosecutor Greg Crittenden. He said the evidence of rape was "uncontradicted."

At trial, any discussion of the woman's sexual history could be limited by Colorado's rape shield law, unless Bryant's attorneys successfully argue the evidence fits into one of the few exceptions.

Prosecutors, however, must convince a jury that a woman flattered by Bryant's attention had no intention of having sex with him as they kissed. Winters acknowledged she told him she expected Bryant to "put a move" on her when she accepted the invitation to his room.

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert has said he held back some evidence, knowing a preliminary hearing requires a judge to look at the evidence in a way that is most favorable to prosecutors.

CBS Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen says the ruling reflects two realities: that Colorado law permits a case like this to go to trial with a minimal showing from prosecutors; and that the judge believes that prosecutors are going to have to show more evidence, maybe a lot more evidence, if they want to convict Bryant at trial.

This ruling does not mean, says Cohen, that prosecutors have an edge going into trial or that all the defense has to do is show up in order to gain an acquittal. A different judge, applying different rules of evidence, requiring different burdens of proof will preside over the trial with jurors who haven't even been selected.

Cohen notes furthermore that prosecutors know they have to answer before or at trial all of the questions the defense has raised. Defense attorneys, for their part, says Cohen, know that prosecutors most likely have more evidence against their client that hasn't yet come out.