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Case will not be retried, but civil trial pending

EAGLE, Colo. -- The sexual assault charge against Kobe Bryant has been dropped, but his accuser -- whose reluctance to
participate derailed the criminal trial before it ever really got
started -- isn't letting the NBA star off the hook just yet.

With jury selection under way, the criminal case was dropped
late Wednesday by prosecutors who said the 20-year-old woman
accusing Bryant of rape had decided not to participate. Her exit
followed gaffes that led to the public disclosure of her name and
other personal details, and prosecutors said they would not carry
on without her testimony.

But the Los Angeles Lakers star still faces her federal civil
lawsuit seeking unspecified damages. That case is still on, said L.
Lin Wood, the woman's attorney.

"There has been no settlement of the civil lawsuit, and there
have been no discussions concerning a settlement," he said.

Bryant, 26, issued a written apology that stopped short of taking responsibility for his actions.

"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was
consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this
incident the same way I did," he said.

In court, one of the woman's lawyers, John Clune, said Bryant's
apology factored into her decision to drop out of the case. Defense
attorneys Pamela Mackey and Hal Haddon told ESPN's Jim Gray that the accuser "insisted
on that statement as a price of freedom."

Bryant tearfully admitted more than a year ago he had consensual
sex with the then-19-year-old employee of a Vail-area resort where
he stayed last summer. If convicted, the married father of a little
girl could have faced four years to life in prison, or 20 years to
life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.

Instead, prosecutors dropped the case after spending at least
$200,000 preparing for trial. District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said
he could have won the case, but he supported the woman's decision
to withdraw, with a stipulation that charges will never be refiled.

"Today justice is sadly interrupted. The casualty in this
interruption has been a brave young woman who was grievously
hurt," Hurlbert said.

Victims' rights groups said the way the case disintegrated could
force states to take another look at rape-shield laws, which
typically bar the sex life of an alleged assault victim from being
admitted as evidence.

Wendy Murphy, a professor at the New England School of Law in
Boston and a former prosecutor, said the case could shake many
women's faith in the justice system.

"The rules, the laws, the things that are supposed to make us
treat each other with civility are a big joke, it doesn't matter,"
she said.

In this case, District Judge Terry Ruckriegle ruled that the
woman's sex life in the three days surrounding her encounter with
Bryant could be admitted as evidence, which may have bolstered the
defense contention that she slept with someone after leaving Bryant
and before she went to a hospital exam -- a potentially key blow to
her credibility. The woman's lawyers have denied the accusation.

And after mistakes that revealed her identity, at least two
death threats and relentless media attention, she apparently had
had enough.

"The difficulties that this case has imposed on this woman the
past year are unimaginable," Clune said. He said she was particularly disturbed by mistakes
including the release of her name on a state courts Web site and
her medical history to attorneys.

Neither Bryant nor his accuser were in the courtroom as the
judge threw out the case, blaming budget cuts in part for a lack of
courthouse staff and the mistakes.

Outside the courthouse, Hurlbert said the decision to drop the
case "is not based upon a lack of belief in the victim -- she is an
extremely credible and an extremely brave young woman."

"A trial can be traumatic for any victim of any crime, more so
with the victim of a sexual assault, and even more so with the
victim of a sexual assault whose victimization has been subject to
worldwide scrutiny," the prosecutor said.

Bryant said the civil case against him "will be decided by and
between the parties directly involved in the incident and will no
longer be a financial or emotional drain on the citizens of the
state of Colorado."

"I also want to make it clear that I do not question the
motives of this young woman," Bryant said. "No money has been
paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be
used against me in the civil case."

Larry Pozner, a former president of the National Association of
Criminal Defense Lawyers, said he did not think Bryant's statement
suggested an interest in settling the civil lawsuit.

"I would have guessed today would have been a global settlement
[covering both cases]," he said. "If it isn't, it's because the
defense has told them, 'We aren't paying you very much, and if you
want to continue, bring it on.' "

The lawsuit, like the criminal case, accuses Bryant of attacking
the woman in his room at the Cordillera resort near Edwards,
causing her emotional and physical problems that linger to this
day.

Prosecutors said Bryant flirted with the woman, a front desk
employee, during a tour of the resort. After the two ended up in
his room, they began to kiss, which she acknowledged was
consensual. Investigators have said the encounter turned violent
and that she told Bryant "no" at least twice.

In the civil suit, the attorneys said at some point during the
kissing "Bryant's voice became deeper and his acts became
rougher" as he began to grope the woman. She asked him to stop,
but Bryant allegedly blocked her exit, grabbed her and forced her
over a chair to rape her. Bryant's hands were around the woman's
neck, the attorneys said -- "a perceived threat of potential
strangulation if she resisted his advances."