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Prosecution's DNA challenge survives despite timing

EAGLE, Colo. -- On the eve of Kobe Bryant's rape trial, a
frustrated judge chastised prosecutors Thursday for waiting until
the last minute to challenge DNA evidence the defense says shows
the accuser had sex with someone else hours after her encounter
with the NBA star.

In an often testy exchange, Judge Terry Ruckriegle told
prosecutors he should deny their request for a hearing because it
was likely to delay the trial, which begins Friday with jury
selection. But he gave them until Tuesday to provide more
information to help him make his decision.

Later Thursday, the judge held a closed-door session with
prosecutors and defense attorneys to discuss the 82-item
questionnaire that prospective jurors will fill out. About 500
prospective jurors are expected to arrive at the Eagle County
courthouse Friday; opening statements are not expected before Sept.
7.

Bryant, 26, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault,
saying he had consensual sex with the then-19-year-old employee of
a Vail-area resort where he stayed last summer. If convicted, the
Los Angeles Lakers star faces four years to life in prison or 20
years to life on probation.

Prosecutor Dana Easter told Ruckriegle that DNA test results
from laboratories hired by Bryant's attorneys indicate there was
contamination in control samples intended to ensure accurate
testing.

She said that threw into question the reliability of conclusions
made by a defense DNA expert, Elizabeth Johnson, who has testified
she believes the accuser had sex with someone else soon after her
encounter with Bryant. The woman's attorneys have denied that
claim.

Easter said she could not have questioned the results earlier
because the defense dragged its feet in providing information
needed to evaluate DNA test results.

"We have acted as well as we can," she said. "The prosecution
has not had $12 million to pay for experts."

Ruckriegle asked Easter whether prosecution experts had concerns
with the statements and conclusions of the defense's DNA experts.
When she said her experts did have concerns, Ruckriegle asked her
to identify them.

"I cannot at this time reveal who we are consulting with," she
said.

"Then I can't evaluate it," Ruckriegle responded.

Defense attorney Hal Haddon criticized prosecutors, saying their
actions were intended primarily to inflame public opinion on the
eve of trial.

"These motions are humbugs designed to distract us from trial
preparation, designed to generate cheap headlines and most of all
designed to confuse the jury," he said.

Attorneys are expected to begin closed-door questioning of
individual jury candidates Monday, but attorneys for news
organizations including The Associated Press asked the judge to
open much of those sessions. The judge agreed to hear arguments on
the issue Monday.