Sat, Nov 15, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Bryant up before the judge for first time in rape trial


Kobe Bryant made his first court appearance on Thursday before the judge who will handle his sexual assault trial, saying nothing as the parents of his accuser sat just a few feet away.

It was the first time family members of the 19-year-old woman have attended a hearing in the case and the first time they have seen the Los Angeles Lakers guard in person, prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said.

Besides the parents, two brothers and a cousin of the woman were present. The family left the courthouse without commenting, though Flannigan said they told her they were glad they came.

Bryant, who played a home game in Los Angeles the night before, sat calmly through the 12-minute procedural hearing, occasionally whispering to one of his attorneys. He left immediately afterward but Lakers officials said bad weather kept him from arriving in time for practice.

The defense waived Bryant's rights to be advised of the sexual assault charge against him and the penalty he faces if convicted -- four years to life in prison and 20 years to life on probation. Bryant's US$25,000 bail was left unchanged.

"We have decided to follow the court's usual procedure and not enter a plea as of today," defense attorney Pamela Mackey said. "I fully advised my client of the charge against him and the possible penalty."

Judge Terry Ruckriegle set a pretrial hearing for Dec. 19 and another for Jan. 23 to settle various motions. Bryant will have to appear at both hearings to show he is complying with conditions of his bond, Flannigan said.

Attorneys on both sides said they would need two to three weeks for a trial, and the judge said his staff would begin looking at potential dates.

Bryant is accused of raping the woman June 30 at a mountain resort near Edwards where she worked and he was a guest. Bryant, 25, says the two had consensual sex.

He isn't expected to enter a plea until his arraignment, which hasn't been scheduled. After a formal plea, state law requires the trial must be scheduled within six months unless Bryant waives his right to a speedy trial.

The Dec. 19 hearing will examine whether the woman's medical records and records from a rape crisis center should be given to the defense and whether anyone involved in the case has been leaking information to reporters.

The Jan. 23 hearing is likely to center on issues that will shape the trial itself, experts said. Among the motions likely to be settled are requests to suppress evidence -- including Bryant's statement to police -- and ground rules for expert witness testimony, said David Lugert, a defense attorney and former prosecutor in Eagle.

During Bryant's preliminary hearing last month, an investigator testified the woman's blood was found on Bryant's T-shirt. The defense suggested the woman was promiscuous and that the blood came from previous sexual activity.

Before the hearing began, about a dozen people rallied outside the courthouse in support of Bryant's accuser.

"We are here to remind everyone to treat this sexual assault case as a serious crime that it is rather than as fodder for entertainment," said Robin Finegan, a board member of a victims' assistance group.

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