DENVER -- It has been a long two weeks for the woman accusing Kobe Bryant of rape.
A key court ruling went against her. Courthouse staff made
another mistake and posted her name on an Internet site. The judge
lost a battle with the media and released nearly 200 pages of
documents from a closed hearing, leading to a barrage of headlines
about her sex life. Her attorneys went on national television and
hinted she may drop out of the trial.
Legal experts say it all suggests the 20-year-old woman is on
the defensive, a potentially key image for the 999 people in and
around her small hometown in the Colorado Rockies who will gather
for jury selection in the NBA star's trial in just three weeks.
Joseph Rice, a jury consultant with Jury Research Institute in
Walnut Creek, Calif., said the developments left the woman's
attorneys little choice but to explain why she might try to back
out of the case after insisting she wanted justice.
"This lets potential jurors know this case has gone off the
rails, it's not her fault, it's a move to generate sympathy for
her," Rice said Thursday. "She was supposed to have protection
and she is losing that protection."
A few hours after the attorneys' TV appearances, the judge
issued a revised gag order and said he was "seriously concerned"
that public comment from participants in the case was threatening
the chances of a fair trial.
Bryant 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He
has said had consensual sex with the woman, then 19, at the
Vail-area resort where she worked last summer. The Los Angeles Lakers star faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life
on probation, and a fine of up to $750,000 if convicted.
The woman's attorney, John Clune, has said she is in danger in
part because of a series of gaffes by state courts officials. Her
name has been mistakenly posted online at least twice.
A court reporter also accidentally e-mailed closed-door hearing
transcripts to ESPN, The Associated Press and five other media
organizations, which this week published the bulk of their
contents. The transcripts focused primarily on a defense expert's
opinion that the woman had sex with someone after Bryant and before
her hospital exam and a defense claim that she is pursuing the case
for monetary reasons.
District Judge Terry Ruckriegle apologized in open court for the
mistakes. But has also ruled the woman's sex life in the three days
before that July 1, 2003, exam can be used as evidence because it
is relevant to help determine the cause of her injuries, the source
of DNA evidence and her credibility.
Small wonder, legal experts said, that her attorneys suggested
she is considering a civil lawsuit and rethinking her participation
in the criminal trial. Reporters descended on the Eagle courthouse
Thursday, even though prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said
there were no new developments and urged the media not to bother
How this plays with the jury is unknown. Two weeks ago, Eagle
County began sending out 999 summonses to residents, ordering them
to show up for jury selection beginning Aug. 27. Potential jurors
will be asked to fill out a 115-item questionnaire.
Experts said the questionnaire may have to be expanded to take
the recent court mistakes into account.
"Some people are going to side with the victim and say this is
unfair, women are supposed to be protected from this," said Beth
Bonora, a jury consultant with Bonora D'Andrea in San Francisco.
"They might feel sorry for her and resent the fact that her sexual
history is being dragged into this.
"Other people are going to be sympathetic to Bryant, calling
this proof that she planned this from the beginning and is afraid
of the truth coming out."
Former prosecutor Craig Silverman said the decision by Bryant's accuser to go public about problems with the case was part
of an exit strategy to give notice that she is thinking about
bailing out. He said that would leave prosecutors with a lot of
explaining to do.
"It's a bit of a black mark on Eagle County law enforcement if
this case is dropped," Silverman said.