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Setback For Kobe Prosecutors

NBA star Kobe Bryant leaves court at the Justice Center in Eagle, Colo., on Tuesday, June 22, 2004, after a pretrial hearing in his sexual assault case.
AP
In another setback to the prosecution in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case, the Colorado Supreme Court refused Monday to hear an appeal of a key ruling that allows the NBA star's attorneys to tell jurors about the accuser's sex life.

District Judge Terry Ruckriegle last month ruled that the defense can use information about the woman's sexual activities in the three days before her hospital exam, which occurred 15 hours after her encounter with Bryant.

In their one-page order, justices did not explain why they decided against considering the appeal. It came as Bryant's final pretrial hearing got under way.

Some are wondering if it will be the last time he steps into a criminal courtroom.

With the trial less than two weeks away, speculation is mounting that prosecutors are looking for a way to dismiss the charge after suffering a series of setbacks.

"We have too many things happening in this case that we just don't normally have," said Larry Pozner, former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "The big picture? None of this bodes well for the prosecution."

People connected with the case are barred from commenting in detail, but district attorney's spokeswoman Krista Flannigan has said prosecutors still plan to try Bryant, who acknowledges having sex with the then 19-year-old hotel employee last summer but insists she consented.

During a closed-court hearing Monday, prosecutors were scheduled to ask Ruckriegle to reconsider his decision allowing the defense to tell jurors about money the alleged victim received from a victims compensation fund.

The defense has indicated it plans to tell jurors that the woman was given nearly $20,000, far more than usual, for mental health care and other services. Details of their argument were filed under seal.

The judge's decision could bolster the defense's efforts to undermine the alleged victim's credibility. Defense attorney Pamela Mackey said in a filing the woman's decision to sue Bryant last week in federal civil court had the effect of "exposing her motivation to pursue her false accusation — the hope of a large monetary award."

Among the recent setbacks for prosecutors:

  • In late July, Ruckriegle lost a battle with media attorneys and was forced to release transcripts of a closed-door hearing that prosecutors called "extremely harmful" to their case. The transcripts had mistakenly been e-mailed to a handful of media organizations.

    In the transcripts, a defense expert witness explained why she believed DNA evidence indicated the alleged victim had sex with another man after her encounter with Bryant but before her hospital exam the following day. The defense has suggested it would make that argument to undermine the accuser's credibility.

    The woman's attorney denied the claim, but prosecutors said release of the transcript threw into question whether a fair jury could be seated.

  • Soon after the transcript was released, the accuser's attorneys, John Clune and Lin Wood, appeared on national television to criticize courthouse blunders that they said damaged their client's faith in the justice system. They questioned whether the mistakes — the e-mailing of the transcripts in June to several news organizations, and the posting of the alleged victim's name on a state court Web site — would prevent a fair hearing of their clients' accusation.
  • On Friday, Ruckriegle dealt the prosecution another blow, turning down a motion to delay the trial.

    Prosecutors are still waiting to hear from the Colorado Supreme Court whether justices will consider their appeal of Ruckriegle's ruling allowing Bryant's attorneys to present evidence about the woman's sexual activities in the three days surrounding her encounter with Bryant.

    Legal experts said the ruling on the woman's mental health history could help encourage her to continue participating in the criminal case by keeping potentially embarrassing information out of public view.

    If convicted, the 25-year-old Los Angeles Lakers guard faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.