Bryant makes first court appearance on sexual assault charge
EAGLE, Colo. -- Kobe Bryant's first day in court lasted all of seven minutes, and the NBA superstar said just two words.
Bryant was in and out of the Eagle County Courthouse in less than 10 minutes Wednesday after his attorneys waived his right to be formally advised of the felony sexual assault charge against him.
Defense lawyers typically waive those steps in Colorado. For Bryant, it had the benefit of preventing television cameras from capturing a moment that could be replayed repeatedly.
"Otherwise, we would have had an image and a sound bite which might have lived in infamy for Kobe Bryant," Denver criminal defense attorney Craig Silverman said.
Bryant, 24, is charged with one count of felony sexual assault on a 19-year-old worker at the Lodge & Spa at Coderilla on June 30. He has said the sex was consensual.
On Wednesday, Bryant arrived at the courthouse in a sport utility vehicle, got out and said nothing as he walked inside.
Hundreds of reporters and photographers swamped the courthouse grounds before the hearing, which was carried live on national cable networks.
More than 100 people who gathered outside the courthouse added to the circus atmosphere. Some cheered; one shouted, "Kobe is innocent." Bryant did not acknowledge the crowd.
During the hearing, Bryant answered "No, sir" when Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett asked if he objected to giving up his right to have the preliminary hearing within 30 days. He kept his gaze fixed on Gannett and left the courthouse immediately after the hearing.
"This is a very fast event for so much attention," Gannett said near the end of the hearing.
If convicted, Bryant faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine of up to $750,000. He is free on $25,000 bail.
The next step in the legal process is a preliminary hearing where prosecutors will try to convince Gannett they have enough evidence to try Bryant.
They likely will discuss such documents as the arrest affidavit and statements that Bryant made to investigators, legal analysts said.
The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 9, one day after a Los Angeles Lakers' preseason game and about three weeks before the start of the regular season.
Such hearings are characterized by general statements and strong denials by defense attorneys, Loyola Law School-Los Angeles professor Stan Goldman said.
Lakers spokesman John Black said it was too early to tell how the Oct. 9 hearing date will affect Bryant's preseason.
"We'll sit down with Kobe at some point when it makes sense to do that and discuss his plans with him at that time," Black said.
The case has been the subject of widespread media speculation about the woman, a college student who worked the desk at the exclusive resort nearby. Bryant was in Colorado for knee surgery in Vail.
Gannett has asked the Pitkin County sheriff to investigate whether law enforcement officials were leaking details to reporters in a case he said he was drawing extraordinary media coverage.
"I am concerned with some reports that I have seen in the press," Gannett said. "They appear to address issues that are not generally available to the public."
Gannett had issued a gag order, and has not yet ruled on media requests to unseal court records.
Bryant's wife, Vanessa, who was by his side when he tearfully confessed to adultery, was not present.
"I have to believe it was going to be difficult for Vanessa Bryant to come to Eagle County, where she now knows for certain that her husband at a minimum committed adultery," Silverman said.
The judge had denied Bryant's request to skip the hearing. His appearance meant little legally but provided the world images of the star standing before a judge in a case that has already damaged his career.
Robert Pugsley, a criminal law professor at Southwestern University in Los Angeles, predicted Bryant would testify at the Oct. 9 hearing.
"I don't think he's going to want to miss an opportunity to present his side of the story," Pugsley said.
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