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Tuesday, September 07, 2004  

Law: Dismissal in Bryant case anti-climactic

It is the big celebrity case that wasn't. When Kobe Bryant was indicted for sexual assault, he joined celebrities Robert Blake and Martha Stewart as the accused of national scrutiny. Blake's trial is still on hold. To the surprise of many, Stewart was convicted and has been sentenced to months in prison. Criminal charges against Bryant were dismissed, with prejudice, last week.

I wondered if the prosecution was desperate when it made a last ditch effort to undermine the defense in an earlier entry. Asking that all DNA evidence be excluded, apparently to hide allegations the accuser had intercourse with another man within a few hours of the encounter with Bryant, seemed to signal defeat. My skepticism proved accurate. The prosecution dropped the charges without even waiting for a ruling on its motion.

The New York Times reports citizens of the small town in Colorado where the victim lived are glad to have the case go away. They look forward to returning to normalcy and regret the expense, a reported $400,000, the episode cost the county.

Coverage by KABC-TV in Los Angeles focuses on Bryant's 'apology.'

In the end, the rape case against Kobe Bryant was dropped because the young woman accusing him did not want to testify at trial. Without her, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said they could not proceed.

. . .In a statement, Bryant, while not admitting blame, apologized to the woman.

"I want to apologize for my behavior that night," he wrote, "and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year."

Should Bryant have apologized? From a legal perspective, the answer is probably no. Since a civil suit alleging he did the woman harm is still pending, an apology could be used as evidence against him. However, the dismissal of the criminal case makes it less likely the civil case will go forward. Even if it does, a jury will be harder to convince that Bryant harmed his accuser and that she deserves damagaes as a result. The best evidence she could have would be a conviction of Bryant in a a criminal trial. It is possible the parties will reach a settlement of the civil suit. But, the accuser will have fewer chips to bargain with as a result of the dismissal of the criminal case.

Some other sources see the gamesmanship of the Bryant prosecution as proof a prosecutor succumbed to the allure of convicting a public figure at the expense of common sense. The GJ Sentinel, in Colorado, takes the person who made the decision to indict Bryant to task.

But one thing has been reasonably clear from the get-go: The prosecution never had a strong case. It was riddled with inconsistencies and evidence that challenged the accuser’s story. It was highly unlikely that 35-year-old District Attorney Mark Hurlbert and his equally youthful staff could have convinced a jury of Bryant’s guilt, even if the young woman had not decided at the last minute that she didn’t want to proceed with the case.

One has to ask whether Hurlbert would have so aggressively pursued the case if the defendant had not been a multimillionaire, world-famous sports star. If the evidence were the same, but the man accused was — let’s say, a young man who worked at the same luxury resort as the young woman — would the same efforts have been made to keep the case alive when it was clearly on life support?

...Hurlbert, a Republican, is up for re-election this year and is facing a Democratic challenger. Voters in Eagle and neighboring counties that comprise the Fifth Judicial District would do well to recall his handling of the Kobe Bryant case when they go to the polls this November.

Kobe Bryant did not really win. Being accused of a crime and having it publicized is never a 'win' for anyone. That is particularly true for a celebrity who relies on endorsements and public good will to remain a multi-millionaire. However, he did obtain his freedom from even more humiliation, and possibly, a prison term, with the dismissal. The American public's aggregate memory is fairly short. Hardly anyone recalls Rob Lowe's sex scandal. The name Jessica Hahn is pretty much forgotten. If he does not find himself in trouble again, Bryant will suffer the consequences of unpleasant notoriety for a few years, but, eventually, regain much of the luster he has lost.

What's the art?

Many basketball fans were loyal to Bryant despite the rape charges.

2:20 PM