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It’s Official Kate Faber Bows Out

Colorado- The Kobe Bryant rape case was dismissed tonight in Eagle, Colo., after the prosecution said the woman [Kate Faber] who had accused Mr. Bryant of sexual assault would no longer cooperate, leaving the state no option but to drop the charges.

Judge Terry Ruckriegle threw out the charges in a case that had veered from melodrama to farce over the last year. The dissolution of the criminal trial was not entirely unexpected. Legal scholars who have closely followed the case say the prosecutor’s case has been steadily weakening for the last month, as a result of rulings by the judge, the accidental release of sealed court information about Mr. Bryant’s accuser and, not the least, the woman’s own decision in early August to pursue a separate civil suit against Mr. Bryant, seeking financial damages.

The civil suit was a particularly devastating blow to the prosecution, because it would have allowed Mr. Bryant’s defense lawyers to portray the woman, whose name has not been officially released, as driven by greed, not a quest for justice, since a conviction would have helped her collect damages.

But the questions that were raised by the case – specifically what happened in a hotel room last summer near Vail when a then-19-year-old front desk clerk went to Mr. Bryant’s room – live on, at least in the civil suit. And now the collapse of the criminal trial raises major questions of its own, in particular whether prosecutors were rash in filing charges in the first place, or whether the evidence looked stronger at one time than another.

The woman said they had kissed and flirted before he became violent; he said the flirting had led to consensual sex.

Either way, the result of a collapsed case is a shambles. Mr. Bryant, an all-star player for the Los Angeles Lakers, who had enjoyed a mostly positive reputation in a game where bad-boy behavior has become common, faced up to four years to life in prison, or up to life on probation, if convicted of felony sexual assault. The prosecution and defense both spend huge sums of money in testing and investigation. Court facilities and personnel in Eagle County were often overwhelmed by the storm of media attention that the case engendered. Nearly 1,000 residents had received summons to appear as potential jurors and hundreds arrived beginning last week for questioning.

And now the criminal case will apparently go away as if none of those machinations in the courtroom ever happened. Dropping the charges with prejudice means that there can be no question of bringing the case back even if new evidence emerges.

The charges have already cost Mr. Bryant dearly. Once one of the top pitchmen in professional sports, Mr. Bryant lost endorsement deals with McDonald’s and Nutella in the months that followed his arrest. Although he agreed last year to a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract with Nike, the company has yet to air a single commercial featuring the Lakers star, or release a shoe bearing his signature.

Among many sports fans, however, his popularity never seemed to wane. He was cheered enthusiastically at home games, and his No. 8 jersey remained a top seller. Although sometimes jeered on the road, notably during the Lakers’ two games in Denver, he enjoyed support in arenas from coast to coast.

The degree to which he seemed to keep his cool as an athlete despite the proceedings was also noted by fans and legal experts alike. On five separate occasions through the year of the pretrial hearings, he made the court-to-court transition (day in court, night on the court), and the Lakers won all five games, including three in the playoffs. But he finished the season with his lowest scoring average in four years and his worst shooting percentage since the 1997-98 season, Bryant’s second as a pro.

From the beginning and through the long months of pretrial hearings, what marked the Bryant case was how often the small and intimate issues in a rape accusation collided with larger questions of society and gender, power and politics.

Privacy got entangled with celebrity. Procedures of law and evidence became bound up with questions of money and fairness as local prosecutors more than once acknowledged their struggle to keep up with the barrage of legal motions and challenges that Mr. Bryant’s defense team, with its deep bench of investigators and experts, was able to produce.

Tightly orchestrated judicial restrictions to protect secret court hearings were repeatedly trumped by happenstance and error, as clerks accidentally released, on three occasions, sealed documents that in turn became part of the legal scramble inside the courtroom.

The central question usually was information – how much of it would be shared with the jury. This included information about the woman’s sexual history, about the statements Mr. Bryant made to the police before his arrest, about the clothing that was found in his hotel room that had her blood on it.

Many of those same social issues and legal quandaries will most likely still be in play in federal court in Denver, where Mr. Bryant’s accuser filed her civil suit against Mr. Bryant on Aug. 10, legal experts said.

But the terrain there will be very different. Colorado’s rape-victim protection laws, for example, which restrict how much information about a woman’s sexual past can be released, do not apply in civil trials. And for both sides, the rules about what is considered legally relevant information to allow in open court are much looser.

A result, some experts said, is that a civil trial could make the criminal phase, for all its rough and tumble, look tame by comparison.

The woman’s lawyers said in her lawsuit that the case against Mr. Bryant would rest in part on what the suit said was a pattern of attempting to sexually assault women. The charge was made in the initial court filing without any evidence to back it up, and Mr. Bryant’s lawyers have been unable to respond to it because of a gag order imposed by the court.

But in a civil case, her lawyers would be able to pursue that question zealously, issuing subpoenas to any and all women who might be turned up by her investigators. Mr. Bryant’s lawyers would be unleashed as well, looking for ways and witnesses to tarnish her credibility.

“It really starts a very different process,” said Arthur D. Hellman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Professor Hellman said the woman would have much more control of the process than she would in criminal court – being able to tell her story, for example, and find out information about Mr. Bryant – but the trade-off is that she is much more vulnerable as well.

“In civil court it’s much more of a two-way street – each has more opportunity to get information about the other,” he said.

 

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