DENVER – The judge in the Kobe Bryant (search) rape case has decided jurors will be allowed to hear about the sex life of the NBA star's accuser so they can determine her credibility.
With about a month to go before the trial begins, District Judge Terry Ruckriegle (search) on Friday gave what legal experts see as a solid victory for the defense.
Ruckriegle, however, limited the admissible evidence to the woman's sexual activities in the three days before her July 1, 2003, hospital examination, saying it is relevant to help determine the cause of her injuries and the source of DNA evidence.
"While the defense lost some things it wanted, it has accumulated a massive amount of damaging facts," said Larry Pozner (search), former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "This evidence is as damaging a set of facts as a prosecutor could ever have to contend with and one wonders if at long last the accuser will pull the plug on this case."
The woman's attorney, John Clune, declined comment and Bryant's attorneys didn't return a call.
The prosecution will decide how to proceed after reviewing the decision but has not ruled out any options, spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said.
"We have no plans of not moving forward with the prosecution," she said. "It's just, what is that going to look like?"
Colorado's rape-shield law generally prevents the sex life of an alleged assault victim from being admitted as evidence. Judges can study evidence and witness testimony behind closed doors to determine if it is relevant.
Ruckriegle said "specific instances of sexual activity" and evidence of sex can be offered to bolster the contention that her injuries were not caused by Bryant. Under seal, the judge filed a detailed ruling explaining what evidence will be admitted.
Pozner said the ruling gives the defense powerful ammunition to attack the alleged victim's credibility.
"In most sexual assault cases the complaining witness is the strength of the case," he said. "In this one she's the weakness of the case."
Bryant, 25, faces an Aug. 27 trial on a single charge of felony sexual assault. He has pleaded not guilty, saying he had consensual sex last summer with the woman, then a 19-year-old front desk worker at a Vail-area resort.
If convicted, Bryant faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.
The defense has suggested the woman had multiple sexual partners in the days surrounding her June 2003 encounter with Bryant, including sex with someone after the alleged attack and before she contacted the authorities. Her attorney has vehemently denied that claim. The defense contends injuries found on her during an exam at a Glenwood Springs hospital could have been caused by someone other than Bryant.
Prosecutors could ask the state Supreme Court to review the decision, said Norm Early, a former Denver district attorney familiar with the case. He said, however, that such a request could suggest the prosecution believes the ruling harms their case.
In a separate development, the Colorado attorney general's office said it had asked Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to uphold Ruckriegle's order barring media organizations from releasing details from a closed-door hearing that were mistakenly e-mailed by a court reporter.
The judge's order, upheld this week by the Colorado Supreme Court, threatens The Associated Press and six other news organizations with contempt of court if they publish material from last month's hearing on the woman's sex life and other issues.
The media groups contend the order is an unconstitutional prior restraint of a free press. But the attorney general's office, representing Ruckriegle, said publication could undermine the trial.
"Publication may violate constitutionally based and statutory privacy rights of the alleged victim and the defendant in this case, substantially hinder jury selection ... and impinge upon the defendant's right to a fair trial" the attorneys wrote.
Besides the AP, organizations involved in the transcripts case are The Denver Post, the Los Angeles Times, CBS, Fox News, ESPN and the television show "Celebrity Justice."