No Plea Entered at Appearance

Times Staff Writer

Kobe Bryant made his first appearance Thursday before the judge who will preside over his sexual assault trial, and the family of the woman who has accused the Laker star sat in the front row.

Bryant's lawyers waived the reading of the felony sexual assault charge, and District Judge Terry Ruckriegle continued Bryant's $25,000 bond to Dec. 19, when a hearing will be held on motions already filed in the case. Bryant did not enter a plea and sat silently between lawyers Hal Haddon and Pamela Mackey during the 11-minute hearing.

The parents, two brothers and a cousin of the 19-year-old woman who alleges Bryant raped her were already seated behind prosecutors when Bryant entered court, and they turned and watched him after he sat down. He did not look at them.

It was the first time the family had seen Bryant in person. Dist. Atty. Mark Hurlbert had contacted the woman's parents and invited the family to attend the hearing. Outside the court, representatives of a Colorado victim assistance group handed out literature and pledged to support Bryant's accuser.

"It's important to show there is a real live person attached to this case, a person who is a victim," said Krista Flannigan, a spokeswoman for Hurlbert. "The family is going to continue to stand by their daughter."

Flannigan said the woman, who has been living in Greeley, Colo., about three hours from Eagle, is "doing pretty well."

Legal analysts said Ruckriegle did not ask Bryant to enter a plea because doing so would force the judge to schedule the trial within six months under Colorado's speedy-trial law. Ruckriegle asked the prosecution and defense to provide him with dates in the next year when they would be free for trial, which both sides estimated will take two to three weeks. Experts said a summer trial is likely.

Among issues that will be addressed at the Dec. 19 hearing will be whether records from an Eagle County rape crisis center should be given to the defense. Additional defense motions to gain records pertaining to what police have said are two suicide attempts by the woman in the last year could also be ruled on.

Ruckriegle gave lawyers 30 days to file new motions and scheduled a second pretrial hearing for Jan. 23 that could last several days.

"That will be the big in-the-trenches fight," said Bruce Carey, an Eagle County defense lawyer who has watched the case closely. "That's when the fireworks will start."

The most contentious motions are expected to address the admissibility of evidence pertaining to the woman's suicide attempts and her sexual activity in the days surrounding her encounter with Bryant.

Bryant, 25, is accused of raping the woman June 30 at an Edwards, Colo., mountain resort, the night before he had knee surgery. The woman, a hotel employee, says he grabbed her by the neck and sexually assaulted her in his hotel room after they had engaged in consensual kissing and hugging, according to testimony from a sheriff's detective at a preliminary hearing. Bryant says he and the woman had consensual sex.

Prosecutors introduced evidence at the preliminary hearing that the woman suffered vaginal lacerations. The defense countered by establishing other sex partners, or perhaps even the medical examination, could have caused the trauma.

Semen and pubic hair from someone other than Bryant was found in the woman's underwear by nurses who examined her the day after the alleged rape. Prosecutors have not had DNA testing done on the semen or hair, and Ruckriegle asked Hurlbert to have the testing completed within 30 days.

Hurlbert hedged, however, requesting an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the defense can have an expert present during testing by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

"There are issues as to the viewing of the testing," Hurlbert said. "I think there needs to be a hearing on this stuff."

Ruckriegle gave Hurlbert 15 days to file a motion on the matter. Colorado Bureau of Investigation policy states that if the test could destroy the evidence, the defense is allowed to observe the test. If there is enough evidence for two tests, some is turned over to the defense to conduct its own independent test.

"The integrity of the evidence is our primary concern," Colorado Bureau of Investigation spokesman Pete Mang said in a phone interview. "It can be disruptive having people in our facility. So we don't allow the defense or the prosecution in the lab unless the testing is going" to destroy the evidence.

Carey said it is apparent Hurlbert does not want the semen and hair tested and predicted that prosecutors want the evidentiary hearing to argue that the evidence is irrelevant under rape-shield laws.

"If Hurlbert wanted it tested, it would already have been done," Carey said.

Legal experts say Ruckriegle will demand that Bryant attend the motion hearings. The Lakers play a home game against the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 19 and are off Jan. 23.

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