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Legal experts say defense might waive hearing

DENVER -- Authorities are tightening security before NBA superstar Kobe Bryant arrives in Colorado for a hearing many expect his attorneys to waive, clearing the way for a rape trial sometime
next year.

Dozens of threats against the prosecutor, the judge and Bryant's
19-year-old accuser helped prompt the tougher steps.

There will be armed guards at Thursday's hearing, one courthouse
entry will be locked and a metal detector will be set up at the
other for only the third time in years, a sheriff's spokeswoman
said Monday.

The question is whether there will be a hearing to determine
whether the Los Angeles Lakers guard will stand trial.

"If the defense doesn't waive it, what's going to happen is
that the public, and of course potential jurors, is going to be
left with an image of what happened in that room -- and it's going
to be an image that goes unrebutted," said Norm Early, a former
Denver district attorney.

"I think it would be very detrimental to Kobe Bryant and I just
don't see him risking that kind of exposure."

Prosecutors have said they plan to call a sheriff's detective as
a witness to discuss the investigation and conclusions reached by a
nurse who examined Bryant's accuser.

Legal experts say the defense will probably waive the hearing
because the judge has ruled the woman cannot be forced to testify.
The attorneys also might want to avoid any publicity of the
evidence.

Bryant still has to appear before Eagle County Judge Frederick
Gannett to show he is complying with conditions of his $25,000
bond, which require him to appear for each court proceeding. This
week, he must return to Colorado from Hawaii, where the Lakers are
training.

Bryant, 25, was charged with felony sexual assault after the
woman said he attacked her June 30 at the mountain resort where she
worked and he was a guest. Bryant has said the two had consensual
sex.

Any trial will be handled in state court. If the preliminary
hearing goes on as planned, Gannett has been talking with judges in
state district court about the possibility of an immediate initial
appearance, court administrator Chris Yuhas said.

That means Bryant could enter a plea Thursday and a district
judge could set a trial date. Legal experts say the earliest a
trial could begin is February or March; it could also be pushed
back until next summer, after the NBA season.

Whatever the timeline, the jockeying by attorneys in the case
will be fierce.

"There's going to be a paper fight like you've never seen
before. The defense will probably file every motion that's ever
been filed in any sexual assault case," Early said.

Many of the motions are likely to be similar to ones filed with
Gannett, such as requests to throw out defense subpoenas for the
woman's medical records or for records from a center for victims of
sexual assault and domestic violence, said Stan Goldman, a
professor at the Loyola of Los Angeles law school.

He said the number of motions filed will give a good indication
of how quickly the defense wants the case to move. If Bryant's
attorneys file a large number of motions and ask for numerous
hearings, it would signal that they want to delay the trial.

Earlier Monday, Gannett ruled that Bryant's attorneys cannot
have immediate access to notes taken by a rape crisis center worker
during an interview with the alleged victim.

The defense can have training materials from the Resource Center
of Eagle County, Gannett said. But their request for notes from the
interviews cannot be answered until after a hearing on the matter
in state district court.

Attorneys for the woman and for the center say the notes can't
be released unless the woman waives her medical privacy rights.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation continues to
investigate threats against District Attorney Mark Hurlbert,
Sheriff Joseph Hoy and the accuser. The investigation began in
July, shortly after Bryant was arrested.

Hurlbert's spokeswoman, Krista Flannigan, declined to comment.
Gannett has acknowledged receiving letters containing death
threats, and two men have been charged with threatening Bryant's
accuser.

Patrick Graber, a 31-year-old Swiss living in California,
pleaded innocent Monday in California to a charge of offering to
kill the woman for $3 million. An Iowa college student has pleaded
innocent to leaving a death threat on her answering machine.