Bryant defense goes on the offensive

Credibility of accuser comes under scrutiny

October 16, 2003|By Steve Henson and Alan Abrahamson | Steve Henson and Alan Abrahamson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

EAGLE, Colo. - The second day of Kobe Bryant's preliminary hearing included a string of startling revelations challenging the credibility of the woman accusing him of sexual assault, but prosecutors expressed confidence yesterday the Los Angeles Lakers star will be ordered to stand trial.

Sheriff's Det. Doug Winters - the investigator who interviewed the 19-year-old accuser the day after the June 30 encounter at a mountain resort - was cross-examined for nearly 2 1/2 hours by defense attorney Pamela Mackey, whose measured tones during cross-examination contrasted with her confrontational style last Thursday in the first portion of the preliminary hearing.

Mackey abruptly brought an end to five hours of testimony last Thursday with a suggestion that the woman had had sex with two other men in the three days leading up to the encounter with Bryant.

The defense team apparently showed Judge Frederick Gannett in closed session that there was a "good faith basis" for the comment, because Mackey was allowed to pursue a similar line of questioning yesterday, which led to several disclosures:

The woman did not tell Winters during an initial interview that she had said "no" during five minutes of sexual intercourse with Bryant. In a later interview with Winters, the woman reportedly said she did recall telling Bryant "no" several times.

The woman showed up for her rape examination less than 24 hours after the encounter with Bryant wearing yellow panties containing another man's sperm. The source remains unclear.

The woman told Winters she had had consensual sex on June 27 or June 28 with a man who had used a condom. The name of her partner on that occasion was not made public.

Pubic hair samples from the woman also turned up hairs from a Caucasian person that could not have come from Bryant, Winters said.

The first person the woman met after the alleged assault was the hotel night auditor, who wrote in a letter to investigators that the woman "did not look or sound as if there had been any problem," and that the woman finished her shift as a front-desk clerk.

"I can't understand why [prosecutors] would bring such a fatally defective case," said Craig Silverman, a former Denver chief deputy district attorney. "It's not fair to Kobe Bryant. It's not fair to the accuser."

Despite the avalanche of evidence yesterday that favored the defense, prosecutors said they believe they still have a strong case. Bryant, 25, is accused of felony sexual assault and faces four years to life in prison.

"No prosecutor puts on his whole case at a preliminary hearing," Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said. "It was not my intent to try this case with the media, but with an Eagle County jury of 12."

Gannett said he hoped to rule by Monday whether the case will go to trial in District Court. After presiding over two days of dramatic, often-contentious exchanges between Mackey and deputy district attorney Gregg Crittenden, the judge rolled his eyes and said before adjourning: "This would gratefully conclude my role in this case."

Legal analysts said Gannett is not expected to dismiss the case because under Colorado law a judge must view evidence at a preliminary hearing "in the light most favorable to the people."

Crittenden said during his closing argument that ample evidence was presented to merit a trial. He pointed out the blood on the woman's underwear and blood on the inside of Bryant's T-shirt.

"The defendant met the victim that night and minutes later he sexually penetrated her, hurt her to the point where she bled," he said. "That is uncontradicted."

Bryant, sitting between Mackey and co-counsel Hal Haddon, reacted with dismay when Crittenden said a bruise on the woman's jaw proved the sex was forced.

"He held her by the back of the neck with his hand during sexual intercourse," Crittenden said. "He lifted up her skirt. She said `no.' He pulled down her underpants and she said `no.' He penetrated her from behind and she cried.

"And he held her. Holding her neck with his right hand, his thumb is going to be on her left jaw."

Earlier, however, Winters admitted to Mackey that the woman said to him during their first interview that she never told Bryant, "No."

When the woman resisted, Bryant stopped, Winters said.

"When she moved his hand away, he stopped," Mackey said.

"Yes," replied Winters.

"There is no dispute he stopped," Mackey said.

"Correct," Winters said.

In testimony last Thursday, Winters had said the woman did say no. But the detective said yesterday that he was referring to a second interview with the woman.

"When she resisted, he stopped, and that's critical," said Larry Pozner, former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "Then there are multiple interviews and the story changes. That's a problem for the prosecution."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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