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Spectators Line Up for Bryant Hearing

October 9, 2003

EAGLE, Colo. (AP) _ Amid heightened security, people began lining up at the courthouse on Thursday to get into a hearing that will determine whether NBA superstar Kobe Bryant will be tried for rape.

Court officers examined photo identifications before issuing passes to the handful of people. Among them was George Zinn of Salt Lake City, who arrived on a Greyhound bus to watch the spectacle.

``I don’t consider Kobe a role model,″ he said.

Virginia Ricke, an Ames, Iowa, retiree sightseeing in Colorado, drove to Eagle from nearby Glenwood Springs to watch. She said she believes the justice system will work but her intuition tells her something went awry between Bryant and the woman in a room at a nearby resort last June.

``I kind of believe that what happened in that room was dumb, whether it was rape or not, because he had such a good, clean image before,″ she said.

Nearby, a group of University of Colorado students handed out packages of condoms and legal contracts that both parties would sign to agree to consensual sex.

Bryant’s legal team faced a decision on whether go forward with the hearing, which could entail a review of potentially damaging evidence in open court. The defense could decide to waive the hearing and proceed to trial on allegations he sexually assaulted a 19-year-old resort employee June 30.

Bryant has said he and the woman had consensual sex. Bryant, free on $25,000 bond, left the Los Angeles Lakers’ Hawaii training camp on Wednesday to travel to Colorado.

Security for the hearing was beefed up after dozens of threats were made against the prosecutor, the judge and Bryant’s accuser. Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett has acknowledged receiving letters containing death threats, and two men have been charged with threatening Bryant’s accuser.

The case against Bryant could lead to a celebrity trial the likes of which have not been seen since O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder charges eight years ago.

Since Monday, about 300 television, print and radio reporters and camera crews have been arriving in Eagle, filling motel rooms and parking TV satellite trucks in a vacant lot across from the courthouse that normally is a lumber dealer’s back yard.

At Bryant’s initial court appearance on Aug. 6, he said just two words: ``No, sir,″ when Gannett asked if he objected to giving up his right to have a preliminary hearing within 30 days. Unlike that appearance, cameras were banned from the courtroom this time.

Prosecutors planned to put a sheriff’s detective on the witness stand to describe some details of what allegedly happened between Bryant and his accuser.

Legal analysts said defense attorneys Hal Haddon and Pamela Mackey would waive the hearing because they have no chance of winning it and little chance of learning more than they already know.

By waiving the hearing, a decision Bryant’s attorneys could announce at the last minute, they also would avoid the disclosure of details of the alleged sexual assault until trial.

``From a public relations standpoint, that type of evidence would most likely be very damaging to Kobe Bryant’s reputation,″ said Karen Steinhauser, a former prosecutor and a professor at the University of Denver law school.

Bryant was ordered to appear for a bail hearing regardless of whether his lawyers waive the preliminary hearing. And there is a possibility he could enter a plea during an arraignment before another judge.

Two district judges were on notice they might be called to preside over an arraignment if the defense asks, state courts spokeswoman Karen Salaz said. By agreeing to an immediate arraignment, Bryant would not have to come back to Eagle again in the next 30 days to answer the charge.

Under Colorado law, Bryant must be arraigned within 30 days of the preliminary hearing or the decision to waive the hearing. After that, he is guaranteed the right to go to trial within six months, but he could waive that right as well.

Gannett has denied defense requests to force the woman to testify, and has deferred to a state district judge the question of whether the defense can have access to her medical records.

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