September 3, 2004, Friday Late Edition - Final

Section A Page 14 Column 1 Desk: National Desk Length: 913 words




End of Kobe Bryant Case Brings Out Strong Sentiments


By NICK MADIGAN and MINDY SINK; David Lasky in Los Angeles andChris Dixon in Newport Beach, Calif., contributed reporting for thisarticle.


EAGLE, Colo., Sept. 2


The sheriff was back in blue jeans on Thursday, attired for amidday bike ride, as good an indication as any that things here maybe resuming their regular rhythm.


A day after the criminal case against Kobe Bryant that has roiledthis ordinarily calm mountain town for more than a year was laid torest, the sheriff, Joseph D. Hoy, took time for reflection but nonefor second guessing.





''It's kind of a letdown, but an understandable one based on theinformation,'' said Sheriff Hoy, who obtained an arrest warrant forMr. Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers basketball star, after a hotelworker accused him of rape, on June 30, 2003. ''Everyone hereunderstands exactly what happened and why.''


It was the woman's apparent reluctance to proceed with a trial,after setbacks for the prosecution and reports that she might havehad other sex partners within days of her encounter with Mr. Bryant,that ultimately scuttled the criminal case.


A civil suit still stands against Mr. Bryant, who formallyapologized to the woman on Wednesday for the first time, after thedistrict attorney's office announced it was dropping the charges.


''I still think the charges were valid,'' Sheriff Hoy said. ForEagle, a town of 4,500 that was invaded by up to 400 journalistsevery time Mr. Bryant made a court appearance, the sense of reliefwas evident.


''It was a heck of a way to put your name on the map,'' WilliamPowell, who has been town manager for 20 years, said Thursdaymorning. ''This was essentially a tragedy of two young people. Ratherthan see the two sides trash each other, it's just good to see itover and done with.''


William Scank, the owner of a transmission shop who was one of 174potential jurors who were to have been summoned for questioning inopen court on Thursday, said the talk around town was about how gladpeople were to see it all go away.


''I talked to people who said, 'Wow, what a waste of money,''' Mr.Scank said, alluding to the almost $400,000 allocated by countycommissioners toward security and other expenses tied to the case.Many bills have yet to arrive, so the eventual sum may be muchhigher.


The 20-year-old woman at the heart of the case, who lived inEdwards, 20 miles east of here, at the time of the incident, does notfigure much in the talk, with the attention, as ever, on Mr. Bryant,who faced four years to life in prison.


''Whether she was right or wrong, she can't show her face aroundhere,'' Mr. Scank said. ''Kobe, I don't think it hurt him at all. Hecame out smelling like a rose.''


Cynthia Stone, a spokeswoman in Denver for the Colorado CoalitionAgainst Sexual Assault, said although ending the case wasdevastating, the woman had shown ''tremendous strength and courage.''


For 14 months, Ms. Stone said, the accuser ''endured hell onearth.'' Although there is concern that the dismissal coulddiscourage other women from coming forward in other cases, Ms. Stonesaid, this one was unusual.


''This case had extraordinary circumstances,'' she said. ''Therewas a high-profile celebrity with almost endless financial resourcesand a very wily defense team, and that made this particular casealmost a poster child for the worst way we can treat a victim ofsexual assault.''


Raymond Wolfe, who works part-time at the Lodge and Spa atCordillera in Edwards, the scene of the encounter, recalled what hesaid was the circus for the O.J. Simpson murder case, and said hefeared that Mr. Bryant's case would be similar.


''People were saying a lot of bad things about Eagle County, likeit's racist here, and it's not,'' said Mr. Wolfe, also called as apotential juror. ''It was getting pretty messy and pretty ugly, andI'm kind of glad the spotlight is off.''


Experts in sexual assault said on Thursday that the case couldhave unexpected positive fallout.


''I am extremely glad that Kobe Bryant's counsel led him to issuean apology,'' Mary P. Koss, a professor of public health at theUniversity of Arizona in Tucson, said. ''It contained elements of agenuine apology, and it is very important that it was made.''


Mr. Bryant, Professor Koss said, now understands that his actionswere ''not right.''


Some of Mr. Bryant's fans were surprised by the case's ending. Onefan, Tom Unvert, a small-business owner in Newport Beach, Calif., Mr.Bryant's hometown, said he was shocked that the charges had beendropped.


''I thought the prosecutors had more and had a solid case,'' Mr.Unvert said. ''They were gearing it up in the media that they had aslam-dunk case, and I was confident that Kobe was going to be putaway.


''I don't think his credibility as a basketball player was everhurt. He's still a fabulous basketball player, and I think all hisfans will always think of him as that. You ask me what I think ofKobe. He's a great basketball player, but he's a terrible husband.''


In Los Angeles, there were a few signs of cynicism.


''It's very rare that celebrities end up serving a harsh prisonsentence,'' Elyse Sara, 22, a film producer, said. ''I'm notsurprised it ended like this.''