Bryant charge dismissed, accuser's lawyer says


Wednesday, September 1, 2004 Posted: 8:12 PM EDT (0012 GMT)

Kobe Bryant leaves the court Wednesday.

EAGLE, Colorado (CNN) -- A judge has dismissed the sexual assault charge against NBA star Kobe Bryant, the lawyer representing Bryant's accuser in a separate civil lawsuit said Wednesday.

Lin Wood, an attorney for the 20-year-old accuser, said the civil lawsuit filed August 10 against the Los Angeles Lakers star will continue.

Wood, prosecutors and members of Bryant's defense team are meeting in open court with Judge Terry Ruckriegle.

Prosecutors said they plan to hold a news conference later.

CNN's senior legal analyst is calling the prosecution's handling of the case "a disgrace."

"That this prosecutor's office would charge Kobe Bryant with a crime that could have left him in prison for 20 years, and branded him a sex offender for the rest of his life -- and now they simply walk away from this case? ... It is a disgrace that these prosecutors have brought a case on such flimsy grounds," Jeffrey Toobin said.

Bryant, a 26-year-old Los Angeles Lakers guard, faced a single charge of felony sexual assault. A conviction could have meant a sentence of four years to life in prison, or 20 years to life on probation and a fine of $750,000.

Bryant has admitted having a sexual encounter with his then-19-year-old accuser, then a desk clerk at the Vail-area resort where he was staying. But Bryant, who is married, has said the encounter was consensual.

The young woman filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in Denver last month, accusing Bryant of raping her and seeking unspecified monetary damages. The suit also claims Bryant has a "history of attempting to commit similar acts of violent sexual assault on females he has just met."

Bryant was in court Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as potential jurors were questioned behind closed doors.

Earlier Wednesday, Bryant's defense team filed a motion to get the charge dropped against him.

Defense attorneys claim the prosecution suppressed critical exculpatory evidence when it failed to inform the defense that it was rescinding its endorsement of a forensic pathologist the prosecution planned to use as an expert witness.

The defense motion claims that the witness -- who was supposed to provide testimony on the alleged injuries suffered by the woman who accuses Bryant of raping her -- would have damaged the prosecution's case.

The defense said because it was not informed that the prosecution would no longer use the witness, the charge against Bryant should be dismissed and/or penalties should be imposed against the prosecution.

Ruckriegle gave the prosecution until Tuesday to respond to the defense motion, and gave the defense until next Wednesday to file a reply.

Prosecution drops DNA challenge

Prosecutors and defense attorneys were scheduled to continue jury selection Thursday in open court.

Over the past three days, 205 potential jurors were quizzed about their opinions on sensitive topics Ruckriegle did not want heard in open court.

Jury selection began last Friday with 300 people filling out questionnaires for the 12 jurors and two alternates needed.

Prospective jurors who are asked to come back will get more thorough questioning in open court Thursday.

Court officials had said they hoped to have the jury selected by Friday afternoon and to begin opening statements September 7, the day after the Labor Day holiday.

At the end of closed-door potential juror questioning Wednesday, the prosecution announced it had dropped its request for a hearing before the trial on its allegations that the samples used in DNA testing by the defense may have been contaminated.

"The people do not wish to delay the process of the trial and therefore will not file" a motion for a hearing on the matter, the prosecution said.

In the midst of the questioning of potential jurors Tuesday, prosecutors indicated to Ruckriegle that a "lot of jurors have gleaned information not only from the press, but also other folks about town."

The comment came after prosecutors filed a motion to allow them to ask jurors where they have learned information about the case. Prosecutors said they are concerned about the number of potential jurors who have already either said they believe Bryant is probably not guilty or definitely not guilty. Defense attorneys also acknowledged they are concerned about jurors who have already declared they think the basketball star is guilty.

CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.