EAGLE, Colo. – Nearly 11 months after his arrest, NBA star Kobe Bryant (search) pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a rape charge that could land him in prison for life.
Standing impassively before District Judge Terry Ruckriegle (search) as the parents of the accuser looked on, Bryant said only four words during a brief arraignment carried live on national cable TV.
"Yes sir," he said, bending slightly to speak into a microphone when asked if he understood the charge and potential penalty. Asked for his plea, he answered "not guilty" and sat down shortly afterward.
The judge adjourned the hearing moments later, saying he expected to set a trial date during a May 27 hearing. Bryant left, with plenty of time to fly back to Los Angeles for Tuesday night playoff game against San Antonio.
The parents of the 19-year-old accuser watched the arraignment from the gallery, sitting about 20 feet from the Los Angeles Lakers (search) star. As they walked out of the courtroom, they smiled and nodded at acquaintances.
The woman, who made a surprise appearance Monday to watch pretrial arguments, was not in attendance Tuesday.
Bryant, 25, has said he had consensual sex with the woman last summer at the Vail-area resort where she worked. If convicted of felony sexual assault, the married father of one would face four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation.
Ruckriegle chose to read Bryant the formal charge and penalties even though defense attorney Pamela Mackey waived Bryant's right to hear the details. Legal experts said there was no significance to the judge's decision, other than possibly adding drama to a legal formality.
The last time Bryant spoke in open court was Aug. 6, when he said "No, sir" when asked whether he objected to giving up his right to have a preliminary hearing within 30 days.
The trial must be set within six months unless Bryant waives that right. Both sides have told the judge they think a trial would take two to three weeks.
Key issues remain unresolved before there can be a trial.
Earlier Tuesday, attorneys argued behind closed doors on a defense motion to use the accuser's sexual history against her. The defense contends injuries found during a hospital examination could have been caused by other sexual partners.
The defense also wants Bryant's statements to authorities, a T-shirt stained with the woman's blood and Bryant's hospital exam barred as evidence because of alleged missteps by authorities.
The quick pace of this week's pretrial hearing prompted the cancellation of a court session scheduled for Wednesday.