Sun, Jul 25, 2004 - Page 23 News List

Bryant's defense gets edge

AP , DENVER, COLORADO

In a victory for Kobe Bryant's defense, the judge in the NBA star's sexual assault case ruled that his accuser's sex life during the week of their encounter can be used against her at trial.

District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said details of the woman's sexual activities in the three days before her July 1, 2003, hospital examination are relevant to help determine the cause of her injuries and the source of DNA evidence. He also said the credibility of the accuser was a factor.

One legal expert called the decision a stunning defeat for prosecutors that could derail their entire case.

"This evidence is as damaging a set of facts as a prosecutor could ever have to contend with and one wonders if at long last the accuser will pull the plug on this case," said Larry Pozner, former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Prosecutors will decide how to proceed after reviewing the decision and no options have been ruled out, prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said.

"We have no plans of not moving forward with the prosecution," she said. "It's just, what is that going to look like?"

The woman's attorney, John Clune, declined to comment and defense attorneys didn't return a call.

The defense's bid to question the accuser's credibility by bringing up her sex life was considered one of the most important pieces of Bryant's upcoming trial.

The defense has suggested the woman had multiple sexual partners in the days surrounding her June 2003 encounter with Bryant, including sex with someone after the alleged attack and before she contacted the authorities. Her attorney has vehemently denied that claim. The defense contends injuries found on her during an exam at a hospital could have been caused by someone other than Bryant.

The judge ruled that Colorado's strict rape-shield law, which generally prevents the sex life of an alleged assault victim from being admitted as evidence, does not apply to all the information Bryant's lawyers want to introduce.

He said he was convinced by the defense that "specific instances of sexual activity" and evidence of sex can be offered to bolster their contention that her injuries were not caused by Bryant.

Ruckriegle agreed that the woman's sex life in the 72 hours before the exam was relevant, but barred "any and all other evidence" related to her conduct.

Bryant, 25, faces an Aug. 27 trial on a single charge of felony sexual assault. He has pleaded not guilty, saying he had consensual sex last summer with the woman, then a 19-year-old front desk worker at a Vail-area resort.

If convicted, the Los Angeles Lakers star faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation.

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