Circus comes to town for Kobe Bryant's first court appearance

Wednesday, August 6th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

EAGLE, Colo. (AP) _ As an outcropping of satellite trucks and television tents sprouted to capture Kobe Bryant's first court appearance on a sexual assault charge, his lawyers sought to clamp down on apparent information leaks from law enforcement officers.

Attorneys for the NBA star on Tuesday asked Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett to schedule a hearing so officers could be questioned under oath about any comments they made, and to punish any that violated an order prohibiting such comments.

The motion came on the heels of news reports in the past week that quoted anonymous sources who described reported injuries to Bryant's accuser and the amount of time she spent in Bryant's room. The sources also said Bryant gave inconsistent statements to law enforcement officials.

Eagle County sheriff's department spokeswoman Kim Andree did not return a call seeking comment.

The brief was filed Tuesday. Bryant, 24, was scheduled to appear Wednesday afternoon. Gannett was expected to advise him of his rights, the charge against him and the possible penalty. The Los Angeles Lakers star is free on $25,000 bond.

Bryant is charged with felony sexual assault against a 19-year-old woman who worked at an exclusive resort hotel in nearby Edwards when Bryant stayed there June 30. He has said the sex was consensual.

In anticipation of the hearing, a mini-community of television crews has cropped up across the street from the Eagle County courthouse. Inside, final touches were being put on a security plan never seen before in this mountain community.

Tuesday evening, sheriff's deputies conducted trial runs to prepare for the roughly seven-mile trip from the airport to the courthouse. The mock motorcades included three unmarked SUVs and two people standing in for Bryant and his wife Vanessa.

All this despite the fact that Bryant's appearance is expected to last no more than 10 minutes and is a legal formality.

``If there's not a change of venue this is just the beginning of the headache,'' police officer Paul Ramsay said while reviewing security Tuesday.

Bryant could jet into a nearby airport, appear in court and jet out again within an hour. The session before the judge is expected to be brief, but pictures and video of the NBA superstar in court could leave an enduring image.

Bryant hoped to avoid his initial appearance, but Gannett ruled otherwise. His attorneys also lost their battle to keep cameras out of the courtroom.

Lawyers for both sides are trying to keep secret details of the accusations by the hotel worker who came to his room.

Gannett issued a gag order for those involved in the case and sealed police and investigator records. That hasn't stopped some media outlets from quoting sources _ usually unidentified _ about the woman's condition and frame of mind after she left Bryant's room that night.

``This already extensive media coverage has erupted into an intensive media campaign to expose every detail of the alleged incident,'' prosecutors wrote in arguing to keep the evidence sealed.

Bryant won't be asked to enter a plea Wednesday. The judge could set a timetable for future court sessions that will probably lead to a preliminary hearing, when some evidence will be made public.

Authorities are taking no chances for a hearing that has drawn so much media that seats in the small courtroom had to be rationed and an overflow tent set up outside.

Officials plan to clear the courthouse, bring out their only metal detector and post sheriff's deputies everywhere to try to ensure there aren't any problems.

``We're dealing with a celebrity that's recognized worldwide, and for that reason we have to look at this not as any other case,'' Deputy District Attorney Greg Crittenden told the judge last week.

Motels in the town of 3,500 that straddles Interstate 70 about 30 miles from Vail have ``No vacancy'' signs, and restaurants are doing booming business.

If convicted, Bryant faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine of up to $750,000.

A trial appears inevitable, unless Bryant's attorneys can persuade the judge to throw the case out for lack of evidence. Even if they are successful, the evidence made public at the preliminary hearing will probably further stain the once clean-cut image of one of America's most celebrated athletes.

Bryant is to begin preseason practice late next month with the Lakers in Hawaii. The judge hasn't restricted his travel.