Kobe's Back In Eagle

Weighty arguments over which evidence will or will not be presented to the jury in the rape case against NBA star Kobe Bryant will take up much of the time in a three-day pretrial hearing this week.

Most of the attention being paid by the media and the public, however, is likely to be on Bryant's arraignment, a formality that probably will take no longer than 10 minutes.

It is expected to be only the second time the Los Angeles Lakers guard has spoken publicly in court since he was charged with raping a 19-year-old woman last summer. And for the second time, Bryant will probably say only two words. This time, they will be "Not guilty."

The plea will trigger a state law that requires a trial within six months, unless Bryant waives that right or the time period is extended for emergency circumstances.

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

The plea isn't expected until Wednesday after more closed-door hearings on several critical issues, including the conclusion of testimony on defense attempts to use the accuser's sexual history against her at trial and have certain evidence thrown out.

Also scheduled for discussion are prosecutors' attempts to limit evidence regarding the woman's mental health history, as well as her purported suicide attempts before her encounter with Bryant and any evidence about her drug and alcohol use.

The main event for the media will be the plea. State District Judge Terry Ruckriegle has allowed a TV camera and a newspaper photographer in the courtroom for only the third time in the case. Both will be placed behind Bryant.

"It gives you film of no significance," said Larry Pozner, a former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "If people want to see Kobe Bryant saying in a hard, strong voice, `Not guilty,' they get it. But come on, of course only America would put significance on it."

The only other time Bryant has spoken directly to a judge in the case was Aug. 6, when he made his first appearance before Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett. Bryant said, "No sir," when asked whether he objected to giving up his right to have a preliminary hearing within 30 days.

Cameras were in the courtroom for that hearing, as well as for Bryant's Nov. 13 initial appearance before Ruckriegle.

Ruckriegle has said he expects to hear from some of the final witnesses in a hearing to help him determine whether any information about the woman's sexual activity - especially in the three days surrounding her encounter with Bryant - can be used against her. Arguments on that question are expected to wrap up during a full week of hearings that begin June 21.

Bryant's attorneys say injuries found on the woman could have come from other sexual partners in the days before her encounter with Bryant. Semen and pubic hair found in underwear she wore to a hospital examination did not match Bryant.

The woman's attorney has denied she had sex with anybody after Bryant and before she reported the encounter to police. Prosecutors say none of her other sexual encounters are relevant to whether she was assaulted.

Ruckriegle also expects to hear from a final witness in the defense's attempt to disqualify evidence that includes Bryant's secretly recorded statements to investigators, a T-shirt stained with the woman's blood and the results of his hospital examination.

Defense attorneys say investigators failed to advise Bryant of his right to remain silent, and botched the execution of a search warrant.