The Kobe Bryant rape trial ended before it began yesterday with a final act so stunning that few could have imagined it. Bryant's accuser decided that she could no longer participate.
The Eagle County, Colo., prosecutor, who no longer had a viable case without her testimony, held a press conference at which he said, in numerous different ways, that he considered Bryant guilty. "With the victim on board, we thought we had a great case," said prosecutor Mark Hurlbert. The case was not dropped out of "lack of faith in the victim," whom he described as "credible and brave." Instead, Hurlbert characterized her as not merely a victim of Bryant's but of "worldwide scrutiny" that was ultimately unbearable. "Justice is sadly interrupted," Hurlbert said. Then, in the criminal case's unexpected denouement, Bryant issued perhaps the most contrite public statement ever issued by a famous athlete who had been convicted of nothing and had not even been forced to stand trial. At first reading, Bryant's admission that "I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did," appears to leave the way clear for his accuser to collect damages -- perhaps large -- in her still-pending civil case. "I issued this statement today fully aware that while one part of his case ends today, another remains," Bryant said. "I understand that the civil case against me will go forward."
In the wake of his adultery, which he admitted on national TV with his wife beside him, Bryant bought his spouse a $4-million piece of diamond jewelry as a forgiveness gesture. After the brutally self-damaging candor in his statement, it seems likely that the price Bryant will ultimately pays his accuser may be of comparable magnitude. Eagle County, where this national spectacle-fiasco-drama has played out for the last 14 months, has an annual budget of $2 million. Whatever you choose to call yesterday's interlocking developments, which certainly felt like the result of negotiation and necessity more than pure pursuit of justice, the final price of Bryant's behavior may take an interesting bite out of his new $136 million Laker contract.
The multifaceted ugliness of the entire affair is breathtaking. Even Bryant, with his vast wealth, said that yesterday's developments mean the case will no longer be a financial drain on the citizens of the state of Colorado. But is he planning to give back all the money, which Eagle County can ill afford, that his acts have caused them to spend?
"I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year," said Bryant in a statement that will no doubt be parsed for sincerity, legal nuance and signs of genuine remorse for a very long time.
"Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure. I also want to apologize to her parents and family members . . . Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual . . . after months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."
It is hard to fathom the emotional response of countless women who have been in what they firmly believe was a comparable position to Bryant's "consensual" partner. How many have had the courage to come forward? How many have suffered some smaller version of the charges that Bryant's astronomically paid legal team mounted against her character, behavior and mental stability? And how many have the prospect of millions of dollars as some partial indemnification? How on earth can such a fundamental sense of violation — which Bryant now admits he believes that he (mistakenly) inflicted — be valued in dollars?
Bryant's statement may drip with conciliation now. But in a series of court documents released to the public, Bryant's attorneys described his accuser as sexually voracious, mentally unstable and addicted to drugs. If Bryant's reputation is damaged, if his ability to function as a commercial pitchman has been decimated (as we assume that it now has been), what can be said of the victim's reputation now that her name has escaped into the public domain?
While this day brought some kind of resolution, though bitter no doubt, to all sides in this case, there were losers. For a nation of increasingly vicarious voyeurs, this Cancel the Kobe Case day was no doubt quite a loss. An almost audible groan of disappointment swept across the reality-TV demographic of America at the news that a trial, which had the potential to break all records for salacious tawdriness and too-much-information about semen stains and vaginal bruising, had been canceled. Just as distressing to those who were transfixed by the O.J. Simpson trial, the now-nonexistent Bryant case was dismissed "with prejudice," meaning that Bryant can't be charged in the same incident again. In one stroke, the Laker star can stop worrying about spending four-years-to-life in prison. And the rest of us have, in a sense, been given back approximately a year of our lives. We've been reprieved, too. Kobe has been given back his freedom, though certainly not his polished good name. Many of the rest of us feel that we have been granted a stay.
In Eagle, Colo., the assembled media of the semi-civilized world can now start tearing down "Camp Kobe." This year's Celebrity Trash Trial of the Century has been canceled like a failed sit-com pilot. Everybody can pack up and leave the tiny town of 3,500 with the reassuring thought that, eventually, they can probably reconvene in Denver, where the hotels have all-night room service, to prepare their reports on next year's Civil Celebrity Trash Trial of the Century. "How much cash will she get?"
Personally, this comes as a blessing. Even though I followed the news accounts, I could never keep it straight whether the purple panties or the yellow panties had the semen stains from "Mr. X," the man who supposedly had sex with the accuser after Bryant but before she reported the rape. I know that three men have already been jailed for threatening the now-20-year-old woman. And I know she had to move to four different states to avoid all the "investigative journalists" on her trail.
But, and this one keep stumping me, I could never figure out why the victim was having sex with the hotel bellman. Yes, that was ruled as admissible evidence. Just like the blood on Kobe's T-shirt and everything he said, much of it making him look like an utter sexual narcissist, during a 75-minute interview with police in which he didn't know he was being tape recorded. Oh, that was ruled admissible, too.
Now, perhaps, we will be spared. Enough is already far, far too much. Be satisfied with what we got. Kobe has his freedom. Eagle County gets to sneer, "Guilty, guilty, guilty" as he leaves town. The victim will almost certainly get paid — a lot. As for justice? Don't be picky. Don't ask.