Judge in Kobe Bryant case rejects bid for media leaks investigation

Friday, December 19th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

EAGLE, Colo. (AP) _ Kobe Bryant's trial judge rejected a prosecution request for an investigation into media leaks Friday as a key hearing began on whether the defense will be able to use his rape accuser's medical history against her.

With the parents of the 19-year-old woman sitting in the courtroom, state District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said trying to find out whether anyone involved in the case was giving sealed details to reporters would be a waste of time.

The hearing, the first of two scheduled to determine what evidence will be allowed, began with two relatively minor issues: the media leaks request and whether DNA evidence will be tested in an independent laboratory.

Arguments over the alleged victim's medical records and history were expected later, perhaps behind closed doors. The hearing was expected to last much of the day.

There was a small crowd in the hallway outside the courtroom, with many wearing ``witness'' tags around their necks. Among them was the lead investigator, sheriff's Detective Doug Winters, and Lindsey McKinney, a former friend of the accuser who has said the woman tried to kill herself twice this year.

A sheriff's official said fewer than 20 potential witnesses had been called to testify.

The defense subpoenaed people close to Bryant's accuser _ including her mother _ to testify about what she has said regarding her medical condition and prescription drugs.

The lawyers also want access to documents from the North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley, where authorities brought the woman in February after determining she was a ``danger to herself.''

Defense lawyers contend Bryant's accuser was a troubled woman who tried to kill herself in February and again in May, and accused Bryant of rape to get her ex-boyfriend's attention. They also say she had been prescribed an anti-psychotic drug.

The defense also wants access to the notes of a rape victim's advocate who spoke with the woman.

If Ruckriegle allows the details as evidence, the defense is expected to argue that mental problems affected the woman's perception of what happened in a hotel room with Bryant on June 30.

The woman says she was raped; Bryant has maintained that they had consensual sex.

Bryant, 25, is free on $25,000 bond. If convicted of felony sexual assault, the Los Angeles Lakers star faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation. The Lakers play at home Friday night, but it was unclear whether he would be able to return to California in time.

In Colorado, a patient's medical records must remain sealed unless the patient consents or gives up their privacy rights. Bryant's lawyers said the woman waived her those rights because she told police and others about her medical condition; the woman's lawyers and prosecutors disagree.

As the hearing began, the judge said he did not understand why District Attorney Mark Hurlbert wants to restrict the participation of defense experts in DNA testing done by the state crime lab.

The defense has said some of those tests will destroy the evidence and wants the material turned over to an independent laboratory.

``I don't know why we would risk creating a problem here,'' defense attorney Pamela Mackey told the judge, who ordered Colorado Bureau of Investigation officials to explain why the defense could not be present for the tests.

The attorneys did not specify what evidence is involved, but legal experts have said it is probably blood, pubic hair and semen samples found during a hospital examination of Bryant's accuser.

Authorities have said the woman's blood was found on the inside of Bryant's T-shirt, based on DNA tests. The defense has argued the woman may have suffered injuries during sex with someone else before or after having sex with Bryant. They also say semen belonging to someone other than Bryant was found in the woman's underwear the day she was examined.

The second evidentiary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 23.