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Kobe case has disagreeable conclusion

WashPost: Bryant's ‘apology’ leaves much unresolved
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

No other way to see it but as a nonresolution resolution, a nonapology apology . . . a real head-scratcher.

"I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year," the statement, released Wednesday, read.

Then came two sentences that may have kept Kobe Bryant's lawyers busy at the word processor for many weeks:

"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. 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."

Was it a confession? And, if so, of what?

Or was it, as Dean Kilpatrick, director of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, called it, a "miscommunication" defense?

"He's saying he didn't know she meant no," says Jeralyn Merritt, a legal analyst in Denver who has closely followed the case. She says the statement isn't the same thing as an admission of guilt. Bryant doesn't quite say, in his apology, that his accuser didn't consent to sex, only that he can understand why she feels that she didn't consent.

"It brings us no closer to factual resolution as to which one of them was right. The only thing it does is, they've agreed to disagree about what happened," says Merritt.

The Bryant rape case had all the ingredients to become another in a series of sensational, saturation-coverage, hyperventilating courtroom dramas that have become a staple of the tabloids and cable TV. The case had celebrity, money and a furtive encounter that was most certainly adultery -- and quite possibly a crime. Bryant is also an African American defendant in a pale part of the country, accused by a white woman barely past adolescence. The defense aggressively sought to introduce evidence that the accuser was sexually promiscuous. The details were tawdry and tragic, the stakes extremely high: Had Bryant been convicted, he would have faced from four years to life in prison. The young woman's family and friends have spoken passionately about her pain and humiliation, about her being victimized twice, first by Bryant and then a fumbling court system. No one outside the hotel room will ever know for certain what happened, and with his apology this week, Bryant seems to have suggested that not even the two people in the room can say for sure what the truth is.

Jeffrey Toobin, a New Yorker writer and legal analyst for CNN, notes, "It's a lot closer to a confession than people who have just won their cases usually make." The statement, he says, is a rarity in the legal world, for although it is written in legalese, it has, for him, the ring of truth. He added: "You can't make a criminal case out of an encounter that is subject to two reasonable interpretations."

The "he-said, she-said" of People v. Kobe Bean Bryant -- going on its 14th month, with a multimillion-dollar price tag and one trip to the U.S. Supreme Court -- has come to an ending that few people expected or found fully satisfying.

"To repent, yet not be repentive," says Philip L. Broyles, 49, a government worker waiting for a bus in downtown Washington. "That's how that apology read like to me. Look, Kobe's lawyer read that statement. He didn't verbalize it. He went to a prepared path of exit."

"Bryant had to say something -- you know, to smoothen things over," says Jasper McLean, 27, a postal assistant lunching on hamburgers with a friend at ESPN Zone, where the three-page menu includes a summary of news reports. The top headline read: "Meeting Adjourned."

The accuser -- a 20-year-old former Eagle Valley High cheerleader and choir member -- isn't talking, and Bryant, 26, has released only the one statement. Bryant's lawyers told ESPN that the apology was a condition of the woman, who "insisted on that statement as a price of freedom." Still, a federal civil lawsuit seeking "unspecified damages," filed by the woman Aug. 10, is pending.

"She wanted money, right? From the get-go, that's what she wanted," says Michelle White, 37, taking a five-minute break from her sales clerk job at CVS.

Co-worker Peggy Velasquez, smoking Marlboro Lights and sipping Hawaiian Punch from a straw, nods empathically. "He's got the looks. He's got money. I don't think he has to ask for anything."

The facts remain: Bryant, unbeknown to the Lakers, flew to Eagle, Colo., on June 30, 2003, for knee surgery. He checked in at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera about 10 p.m. Pretty much everything else after that depends on who is talking.

But what's known is that the front desk clerk, then 19, gave Bryant a tour of the hotel and eventually ended up in his room.

He said the sex was consensual. She said it was rape.

On July 18, 2003, Bryant was charged with felony sexual assault. That day, at a tearful news conference at Staples Center in Los Angeles -- with his wife, Vanessa, sitting next to him, holding his hand -- Bryant admitted to adultery but declared his innocence of the charge.

Rape victim advocates were furious about the handling of the case. Judge Terry Ruckriegle allowed evidence about the accuser's sexual activities in the days immediately surrounding the incident. Following that, her transcripts dealing with her sexual history were inadvertently released to the public.

"You can have some people who think they're God's gift to women, and if someone didn't scream, yell or fight them off physically, then they're consenting," Kilpatrick, the treatment center director, says. "There's a lot of stereotypes about women saying no when they mean yes."

Not everyone, of course, sees the accuser as a victim.

Roy Black, a defense attorney, says there surely has been a settlement. "I guarantee you it's already been done. The only thing that hasn't happened is a transfer of money so it doesn't look as dirty as it is," he says.

The accuser's decision not to testify infuriated Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law, who has been a prosecutor in rape cases.

"This is a woman who put profit above justice," Murphy says. The accuser should have been forced under subpoena to testify. Had she refused, Murphy says, she should have been jailed for contempt of court. Murphy believes the woman's lawyers pushed the case to the very eve of trial to ratchet up the monetary settlement.

"The message goes out that intimidation tactics work," she says. "You can't blame [the accuser] for feeling traumatized by the system. She's been through so much. That's not the issue. . . . She put her financial well-being above the integrity of the law itself."

In the end, no one came out of the Bryant case looking good, not the defendant, the accuser and certainly not the criminal justice system of Colorado. There were no heroes, no clear victories, no resolution of what really happened. The woman in question will always be known as Kobe Bryant's accuser, a label that won't go away no matter how much she is paid.

Bryant's status as a celebrity endorser has likely been tarnished forever, though any financial sting will be salved by his salary with the Lakers, who will pay him, over the next seven years, $136 million.