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Why The Kobe Case Is Moving Slowly

Kobe Bryant's accuser is frustrated and impatient. She wants her rape case against the basketball star to go to trial sooner rather than later so that she can get on with whatever she'll do with the rest of her life. She's fed up with the scrutiny and the cameras and the death threats and all the concomittant attention that comes with accusing a famous man of a heinous crime. If you were in her shoes, wouldn't you want your ordeal over quickly, too?

So Thursday, one day after she confronted her alleged rapist in court, the young woman had her attorney file a written "request" with the court to expedite the resolution of all of the pending motions and set the case for trial "in the interest of the victim's safety and to prevent even further harm as a consequence of reporting criminal conduct..." Attached to the unusual (but not unheard of) filing was a letter from the alleged victim's mother, a personal plea if you will, to the judge to "do whatever possible to bring this case to trial as soon as possible."

The request is perfectly reasonable and quite understandable. It's also shrewdly timed and executed. On a day when most journalists here in Eagle had nothing much new to report upon, the four-page filing immediately as designed became the news of the day. Instead of focusing upon a suppression hearing being held in closed court-- instead of trying to speculate about what prosecutors and the defense were arguing about behind closed doors-- reporters instantly hit a mother lode of "details" about the difficult life and times of Bryant's accuser.

From her mother's letter we learned that the alleged victim's "life is on hold and her safety is in jeopardy until this case is over." On Wednesday night, for example, Bryant's accuser "tried to have dinner with a friend and her friend's mom. On the way into the restaurant a man came up to them (sic) pulled out a camera and began taking pictures and questioning them. They asked him to stop, they tried to walk away (sic) he followed them and would not stop until she used a cell phone to call for help." More generally, the alleged victim's mother complained that her "daughter has lived in 4 different states in the past 6 months... As soon as she gets a job or makes a few acquaintances someone figures out who she is and the media arrives..."

Contrast this existence with the existence Bryant enjoys these days-- he jetted out of Eagle Wednesday night, flew to California to play in the Los Angeles Lakers' game, and then flew back in time for court today-- and you get a sense of how alienated and angry the alleged victim has a right to be about her fate. Wednesday's courthouse crucible, replete with the from-the-back photos of her that were splashed across television screens and newspapers all over the country, probably pushed the alleged victim into shouting out in this fashion.

She has a point. It's hard to blame her and her attorney for trying to push Eagle County District Court Judge Terry Ruckriegle into quicker action. The judge has been thorough in this case but he has not been speedy with his rulings. For example, we still are waiting for him to decide whether the defense can have access to (and perhaps introduce at trial) the alleged victim's medical records, an issue that was briefed and argued months and months ago. And instead of simply bringing all the relevant players to court for a stay-until-we-finish motions session, Judge Ruckriegle has spaced out the hearings a few days at a time from month to month.

To that relative sense of inertia add in the fact that this case started out in county court, where it foundered for a few months, and the fact that some of the most vital issues in the case (the suppression of Bryant's statements and physical evidence, the admissibility of the alleged victim's past sexual conduct) still haven't been fully argued yet, and you can fairly clearly understand why Bryant's accuser would be left wondering when this all is going to begin, much less when it all will end.

The problem with the emotional request is that it isn't likely to tell the judge anything he doesn't already know or provoke him into setting a trial date any earlier than he otherwise had planned to. Colorado law gives victims the somewhat ethereal "right" to be "assured" that "the court, the prosecutor and other law enforcement officials will take appropriate action to achieve a swift and fair resolution of proceedings." But this language doesn't have nearly the same force of law as does the defendant's "speedy trial" rights under state and constitutional law. So all Judge Ruckriegle has to do to respond to the request is to tell the alleged victim that he is doing the best he can given his responsibility to be fair to all of the parties involved in the case, including the young man who could spend a lifetime in prison if convicted.

And he probably is. Despite the judge's hesitations, the case is moving along. Remember, virtually every issue has been a contested one. That's not the judge's fault. Nor is it his fault that prosecutors and law enforcement officials have made a few miscalculations (remember the t-shirt fiasco a few months ago?) that have added to the time it has taken to get us to this point. And Bryant's attorneys haven't exactly sped up the process with their scorched-earth approach to briefing the issues. The fact is that rape cases take time to get to trial and this rape case in particular will take about a year to bring to a jury.

The alleged victim's plea is poignant but it also is ironic. It comes at a time when the window for setting a trial is just opening anyway. Within the next two months, the motions phase of the case will almost certainly be over. In fact, I bet that the case will be set for trial before Memorial Day and that the trial itself will take place around Labor Day. That may not be fast enough for Bryant's accuser but in the scheme of things it's not a travesty upon justice, either.

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David Hancock

David Hancock is a home page editor for

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