DENVER – In a glimpse inside the Kobe Bryant (search) sexual assault case, closed hearing transcripts released Monday show that a month before the judge cleared the way for the accuser's sex life to be used as evidence, prosecutors told him such a ruling would force them to re-evaulate their chances of winning a conviction.
District Judge Terry Ruckriegle (search) in late July said he would allow the NBA star's defense team to introduce details about the accuser's sexual activities during the three days surrounding her encounter with Bryant to help determine the source of her injuries, DNA evidence and evaluate her credibility.
He also allowed Bryant's tape-recorded statements to investigators and a T-shirt stained with the accuser's blood to be admitted. He has not yet ruled on a prosecution request to limit testimony about the woman's mental health, including what friends described as two suicide attempts.
Prosecutor Ingrid Bakke (search) told the judge the prosecution's case could be damaged if one or more of those decisions favors the defense. Her comments were included in transcripts from the closed June 21-22 hearings that were mistakenly e-mailed by a court reporter to The Associated Press and six other news organizations, which battled Ruckriegle in court to publish the contents. He reluctantly released lightly edited copies late Monday.
"If in fact you were to rule that all of the rape-shield evidence were going to come in in this case, I'm thinking the prosecution is going to sit down and re-evaluate the quality of its case and its chances of a successful prosecution," Bakke told the judge, referring to the woman's sex life.
"That ruling, the ruling on the mental health issues and the suppression of the defendant's statements make a significant change in the case, meaning the parties may have more or less willingness to negotiate based on that," she said.
Ruckriegle told Bakke he understood but he would not allow plea negotiations once a trial date was set. Three days later, he set an Aug. 27 trial date. He has twice extended the deadline for a plea deal, most recently to July 28.
Whether Ruckriegle would go ahead with a trial if both sides agreed to a deal is unknown, but legal experts say he has that authority.
The transcripts also contain detailed comments from a defense expert who says she believes Bryant's accuser had sex with someone else after her encounter with the NBA star and before she went to police, a claim that has been vehemently denied by the woman's attorney.
Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying he had consensual sex with the woman, now 20, at a Vail-area resort last summer. If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.
In releasing the transcripts, Ruckriegle said he concluded he must disclose the details despite concerns about compromising the privacy rights of the accuser and Bryant's right to a fair trial.
"It is with great reluctance that this court releases these transcripts," Ruckriegle wrote. "The effect of this release is to present narrowly limited, one-side evidence and argument to the public prior to the selection of a jury and without reference to the totality of the evidence.
The documents provide a rare glimpse into the fierce battles that have gone on for months behind closed doors over evidence. Bakke's comments are by far the most candid public assessment from anyone on the trial team about the strength of the prosecution's case.
During the hearing, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert (search) said there were brief discussions about a plea deal, but the two sides were "very far apart." The defense team has never commented about a possible plea deal and legal experts say the possibility is unlikely.
Bakke's comments came near the end of a hearing that dealt primarily with the accuser's sexual activities around the time of her June 30, 2003, encounter with Bryant.
The defense has claimed the woman had multiple sexual partners around that time, perhaps as part of a bid to win attention from a former boyfriend. It has suggested her injuries could have been caused during sex with someone other than the Los Angeles Lakers star.