Sheriff, prosecutor defend handling of Kobe Bryant case

Friday, September 3rd 2004, 8:38 am
By: News On 6

EAGLE, Colo. (AP) _ The sheriff and prosecutor in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case defended how the case was handled, and said they were disappointed it never went to trial.

Sheriff's investigators have been criticized by Bryant's lawyers and legal experts who argued authorities did a haphazard job and prematurely arrested Bryant before prosecutors could review the facts.

Sheriff Joe Hoy said Thursday investigators did their job correctly and prosecutors and investigators worked together on the case from the start.

``They did a very thorough investigation,'' he said. ``If I didn't think it was a valid case, we wouldn't have gone forward.''

Asked whether he felt justice had been done, Hoy said no.

``It would have been good to see it go through, but under the circumstances, it was the right thing,'' he said.

Mark Hurlbert, district attorney for the 5th Judicial District, also defended his performance, denying claims that prosecutors withheld evidence that would have been helpful to the NBA star.

Hurlbert said Thursday that he had enough evidence to meet the ethical requirements for pursuing the case and only dropped the case because Bryant's accuser backed out.

``I regret that we could not go to trial and tell the full story. That's the only regret I have,'' Hurlbert told The Denver Post.

He faces his first election this fall and the unraveling of the case that cost taxpayers at least $200,000 has become a campaign issue.

On Tuesday, a day before Hurlbert dropped the case against Bryant, Bryant's lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the case accusing prosecutors of withholding key testimony from a forensics expert.

Dr. Michael Baden, a former New York City medical examiner who had been expected to testify, found that genital injuries and a jaw bruise found on the alleged victim at a hospital exam the day after she was with Bryant could have resulted from consensual sex.

Prosecutors later dropped Baden from the witness list but didn't tell the defense what Baden's findings were. The motion was filed after defense lawyers found out about his opinions.

Hurlbert said he had a response for every claim raised by the defense, including the presence of another man's semen on the woman and in her underwear. In testimony mistakenly released to the media, a defense expert said the evidence showed that the woman had sex with someone else after Bryant and before she underwent a hospital exam. The woman's lawyers deny that.

``We could have subpoenaed her and brought her in, but that is something that I am unwilling to do _ revictimize an already fragile person,'' Hurlbert said.

The case had an unusual beginning with Hurlbert caught off guard by Hoy's decision to arrest the five-time All-Star on July 4, 2003.

The sheriff sought the warrant directly from a judge, instead of making the request through the district attorney, which is the usual practice.

Hurlbert took two weeks before deciding to file charges against Bryant.

``I really took my time,'' Hurlbert told the Post. ``The whole idea that the case was troubled is really something the media made up. I knew that this was going to be a huge case, and I wanted to be sure that we were on the right track.''

Bryant, 26, has said he had consensual sex with a then-19-year-old employee of a Vail-area resort where he stayed last summer. He apologized to the victim ``for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year.''

The woman, whose lawyers said asked for the apology as a condition of dropping her testimony, is pursuing a civil lawsuit against Bryant.