CBSN

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."

"I read that as the judge saying that at a preliminary hearing that's all they have to put on is tiny bit of evidence compared to the proof at trial," CBS News Legal Analyst Wendy Murphy, a former prosecutor, said Tuesday on The Early Show. "They really only had to show that it's probably true that a crime occurred and that it's probably true that Kobe Bryant committed the crime. But by no means should we take that observation as a sign the judge thinks this is a weak case."

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.

"The judge was pushed and shoved into making a finding probably cause," said CBS News Legal Analyst Mickey Sherman, a former defense attorney, also on The Early Show. "He wasn't happy with it and the judge should have had the guts to say 'If I'm this unhappy, I'm not finding probable cause,' but he did the next best thing. He found it and said you better come up with something better for the trial."

Both Sherman and Murphy agree that when the victim testifies, "that could very easily change the landscape of the trial," said Sherman. "It's going to be different. It's not a slam dunk in anybody's direction here. When the victim comes on, it could be a very different story."

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.

"Based on what we heard in the judge's decision yesterday, this is a 'he said, she bled,' and that is the killer evidence in this case," said Murphy.

Winters 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.

"Those panties are coming into evidence," declared Sherman.

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.