- The Washington Times - Friday, October 10, 2003

EAGLE, Colo. — In what analysts say is an abrupt shift in strategy, prosecutors in the Kobe Bryant case asked the judge to close at least a portion of the preliminary hearing when it resumes next week.

Prosecutors made the request in private after defense attorneys, during Thursday’s hearing, questioned the sexual history of the woman who accused the NBA star of rape.

Prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said yesterday the request involved a portion of the hearing. She declined to provide additional details.

Tom Kelley, a Denver attorney who represents several media organizations including the Associated Press, said he was told prosecutors sought to close the balance of the hearing.

Earlier, prosecutors had supported a public hearing, and Kelley called the move a “flip-flop.”

“They got in all the stuff that is harmful to Kobe. When the witness started taking a beating on cross-examination, they move to close,” Kelley said.

Larry Pozner, former president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, said it appeared to be a defensive action.

“I think yesterday’s move was a snap move where they said this is getting even worse than we envisioned,” he said.

The preliminary hearing, which began Thursday, was expected to be an easy victory for prosecutors. But it ran more than six hours and ended with a suggestion by defense attorney Pamela Mackey that the woman’s injuries might be “consistent with a person who has had sex with three different men in three days.”

Bryant, a guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, showed no emotion as the woman’s story emerged: a flirtatious encounter that got out of control.

Eagle County sheriff’s Detective Doug Winters related the woman’s account with graphic details of Bryant grabbing her by the neck and attacking her.

Pozner said prosecutors made a tactical error by introducing photographs of the woman’s injuries and allowing Winters to describe the nurse’s conclusions. That gave the defense an opening to bring up the woman’s sexual history.

Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett took the prosecution request to close the hearing under advisement and allowed defense attorneys to question Winters behind closed doors about statements Bryant made to police before he was arrested.

The prosecution was hurt by the defense’s actions Thursday, said Robert Pugsley, a professor at Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles.

“It’s not going to be a piece of cake to get a conviction against Kobe Bryant,” Pugsley said.

Bryant faces up to life in prison if convicted of the single count of felony sexual assault against him. He has said he and the 19-year-old Eagle woman had consensual sex while he stayed at the mountain resort where she worked.

Bryant, who returned to practice with the Lakers yesterday, is free on $25,000 bond and must return to Eagle on Wednesday when the hearing resumes.

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