DENVER – For the first time, Kobe Bryant's attorneys have hinted at their strategy by focusing attention on the woman who accused the NBA superstar of rape.
They have asked the court for medical and psychological records of the woman, who was treated for mental health problems. And they have asked for a hearing on their request, which could open the door wider.
Colorado has strict laws against releasing such records, even for private review by a judge, and attorneys for the 19-year-old woman said she has no intention of waiving confidentiality rights.
Still, the request could plant seeds of doubt among those who may be jurors if the case goes to trial, legal analysts said.
"If they can't get into attacking her credibility by saying she's crazy one way or another, then the next best thing, and it probably works just as well, is to make sure the entire potential jury pool knows that she's had emotional or mental difficulties," said jury consultant Howard Varinsky of Oakland, Calif.
"They'd love to get the records, but they don't care. They just want the media to broadcast that the records exist," Varinsky said.
Neither Bryant's attorneys nor an attorney for the woman returned calls seeking comment. A spokeswoman for prosecutors said they have not taken a position on the defense request.
Bryant, 25, is free on $25,000 bail on a charge of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel employee June 30 in his suite at a resort in nearby Edwards. He says the sex was consensual.
An Oct. 9 preliminary hearing is set to determine is enough evidence exists for a trial.
In cases that hinge on statements from the accused and the accuser, defense attorneys typically attack an alleged rape victim's credibility, analysts said.
In 1991, attorney Roy Black defended William Kennedy Smith, a nephew of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, on a charge of raping Patricia Bowman at the Kennedy estate in Palm Beach, Fla.
Black hired private investigators to look into Bowman's background, obtained medical records and suggested Bowman was mentally disturbed and promiscuous. The judge excluded the evidence, but the controversy shifted attention to her background. Smith was acquitted.
Black believes rape is the only crime in which the state of mind of the accuser is more important than that of the defendant because the jury's decision hinges on whether the alleged victim refused or withdrew consent.
"When you make a criminal charge in which somebody could be sentenced to life imprisonment, you necessarily give up certain rights to privacy," Black said.
Colorado's rape shield law protects the identities of alleged rape victims and, in most cases, prevents evidence of their sexual history from being introduced at trial.
Evidence about any past mental-health problems likely could be introduced only if the accuser's history indicates she could be an unreliable witness, University of Colorado law professor Christopher Mueller said.
In the Bryant case, the woman who accused the Los Angeles Lakers guard of rape had been taken to a Greeley hospital in February after police at the University of Northern Colorado concluded she was a "danger to herself," campus police Chief Terry Urista has said.
Lindsey McKinney, a former roommate of the woman, told The Associated Press this summer that the woman tried to kill herself that time and again in May in Eagle by trying to overdose on sleeping pills.
Bryant's attorneys requested the woman's medical records from North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley, Student Health Services at the university and the Eagle Valley Medical Center, according to a court filing by her attorney.
Attorneys for the Greeley hospital and for the woman have asked Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett to reject the request. The woman's attorneys argued that she has not given the consent necessary under state and federal law to release the documents.
Former Denver District Attorney Norm Early said he could think of no sexual assault cases in which medical records of the accuser were allowed as evidence.
Denver defense attorney Scott Robinson said Bryant's attorneys will have to convince the judge that the woman had talked about any treatment to such an extent that there is nothing in the records that she hasn't revealed herself.
If the judge agreed to a hearing on such evidence, it would open the door for defense attorneys to call the woman's friends and relatives, Robinson said.
"If they can cross-examine friends and neighbors of the woman prior to the trial, who knows what they might find? They were fishing for the mental health problems, but they might catch something else," he said.