Sat, Jul 26, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Spotlight on Kobe accuser intensifies as history emerges

AP , EAGLE, COLORADO

Scrutiny of Kobe Bryant's accuser intensified on Thursday as authorities said she had been hospitalized as a "danger to herself" four months before the alleged sexual assault.

University of Northern Colorado police chief Terry Urista said campus police received a call about 9pm local time on Feb. 25 regarding a woman in a dormitory room.

"An officer determined she was a danger to herself," he said. "It's classified as a mental health issue."

The woman was transported by ambulance to North Colorado Medical Center of Greeley, Urista said. He refused to say whether it was a suicide attempt.

Lindsey McKinney, who lived with the woman this spring before the two had a falling out, said her friend tried to kill herself at school this winter and again in May in Eagle. She said the woman tried to overdose on sleeping pills.

Prosecutors and an attorney for Bryant's 19-year-old accuser have declined to discuss details of the case or the background of the woman. Records relating to the case were sealed.

Robert Pugsley, a criminal law professor at Southwestern University in Los Angeles, said if the two incidents turn out to be suicide attempts it could weaken the prosecution's case.

"The more these indications of instability emerge, the more difficult it might prove for the prosecutor to persuade the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that this young woman did not misinterpret the event," he said.

Another legal expert said the suicide attempt claims may never be heard at trial.

Christopher Mueller, a law professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said judges can exclude evidence that exposes a witness to undue embarrassment if it isn't essential to the charges.

"When there is no connection proven, that argument becomes pretty difficult," he said. "A court may very well bar it."

Mueller also said the defense will think "long and hard" about whether to label Bryant's accuser unstable and suicidal. "To attack a person who comes into a court as a victim is always a tricky thing," he said.

Bryant was charged with felony sexual assault after his accuser told authorities he attacked her at an Edwards resort June 30. Bryant said the sex was consensual.

Meanwhile, Eagle County Judge Fred Gannett issued an order limiting public comment about the case by attorneys, authorities and others involved in the case, including Bryant and any witnesses.

Citing concern about pretrial news coverage, the judge said it was his duty to try to guarantee a fair trial.

"Where the case is a notorious one, that burden on the court is heavy," Gannett wrote.

Before the judge's ruling, Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy dismissed speculation by at least one of the woman's friends that she is having second thoughts about going forward with the case.

"As far as I've heard, that is just plain rumor," Hoy said. "That is just off-board."

Prosecutors met with the woman at length at her lawyer's office this week and interviewed other young women at the district attorney's office in Eagle. Friends say the woman is strong enough to withstand the media attention.

Krista Flannigan, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, said the final decision about pursuing the case rests with prosecutors, who represent the public and not just the victim.

"It's not her complaint against him. It's the people of Colorado against him," she said.

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