EAGLE, Colo. – The criminal case against Kobe Bryant case collapsed Wednesday as prosecutors said they had no choice but to drop the sexual assault charge because the NBA star’s accuser no longer wanted to participate.
Bryant, whose trial had been days from opening arguments, responded with an apology to the woman who had accused him and whose civil suit for damages is still pending.
“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,” Bryant said. “I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”
District Judge Terry Ruckriegle threw out the case under a deal that means no charges will be refiled. Neither Bryant nor his accuser was in the courtroom.
The dismissal marks a stunning turn in the high-profile case against one the NBA’s brightest young stars. For months, prosecutors had insisted they had a strong enough case to win a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.
Instead, prosecutors backed away after spending thousands of dollars and just days before opening statements were scheduled to begin on Tuesday. Jury selection was scheduled to wrap up this week.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert told Ruckriegle the woman did not want to testify or otherwise participate in the trial.
The woman’s attorney, John Clune, said she has been through an extremely difficult time since she alleged she was raped, and that she was disturbed by a series of courthouse mistakes that included release of her name and medical history. Ruckriegle admitted mistakes had been made and took full responsibility.
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. Had he been convicted, the Los Angeles Lakers star would have faced four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.
Legal experts said a series of court rulings hurt the prosecution’s case, including a decision allowing the woman’s sex life in the days surrounding her encounter with Bryant to be admitted as evidence. This was expected to bolster 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 pending civil case would have also allowed defense attorneys to argue the woman had a financial motive to accuse Bryant of assault. Bryant’s defense team has long argued she falsely accused him to gain the attention of a former boyfriend, and that she was given nearly $20,000 from a victims’ compensation fund.
Defense attorneys this week asked the judge to dismiss the assault charge, saying prosecutors had refused to turn over details that could suggest Bryant is innocent. In a motion made public Wednesday, defense attorneys said a forensics expert whom prosecutors had planned to call as a witness had information that “undermined the accuser’s allegations and the prosecution’s case, and corroborated Mr. Bryant’s defense on a central issue – the cause and significance of the accuser’s alleged injuries.” The filing said those opinions were not disclosed to the defense until they contacted the expert Friday.
The defense motion was first reported by ABC News, which cited unidentified sources who said former New York City medical examiner Michael Baden told prosecutors the woman’s injuries could have been caused by consensual sex.