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Leaks, Peeks and a Death Threat Kobe Bryant makes nice with a $4 million bauble, but his backers play rough

The headlines have come unceasingly, as if a Kobe ticker were
trawling across the bottom of America's TV screens. Unless you've
avoided broadcast news, the Internet and the supermarket checkout
line, you know the basics: The Lakers' previously spotless guard,
Kobe Bryant, 24, is accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old
concierge at an Edwards, Colo., resort on June 30 and charged
with felony sexual assault, which carries a sentence of four
years to life.

Bryant's July 18 public mea culpa--a teary press conference at
which he sat by his wife of two years, Vanessa, and vowed that,
though guilty of adultery, he is innocent of the criminal
charges--seemed to heighten the tension between his supporters
and detractors. Some in the pro-Kobe camp weren't generating much
sympathy for their man. One website ran a picture of the alleged
victim and invited visitors to rate her "hotness." Last Saturday
the FBI acknowledged it has been investigating death threats
against Eagle County district attorney Mark Hurlbert, who is
prosecuting the case.

Most of the new information has centered on Bryant's accuser, a
former cheerleader who tried out for American Idol last year. Her
name was made public by a syndicated radio host, and the Globe
supermarket tabloid ran a photo it claimed was of the alleged
victim with her eyes obscured by a black strip. News leaks and
interviews with named and unnamed sources, while sometimes
stressing the essential honesty of the woman, created the
portrait of a conflicted college student who, according to a
police source, was hospitalized in February as a "danger to
herself" after she attempted suicide with sleeping pills
following a breakup with her boyfriend.

Some support for Bryant has been direct. One selling T-shirts featuring an
Afro-bedecked basketball with a halo. The site, which does not
identify the accuser, claims to get 2.2 million hits a day and
says it is donating a portion of its revenue to "gender equity in
sports." Of course, not all the information on the Internet is
reliable. One website posted photos of the wrong woman: another
19-year-old from the same high school and with the same first
name as the accuser. The misidentified woman's family has filed

Bryant himself--who is due in Eagle County court for an Aug. 6
arraignment that will be televised live--has been mum, though his
agent said Bryant would miss USA Basketball's Olympic qualifying
tournament later this month as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
Bryant also made news when he gave his wife a $4 million,
eight-carat diamond ring, days after saying on television that he
was sorry he had sex with the woman who claims she was assaulted.
No one doubts that he is. --C.B.

COLOR PHOTO: KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/AP TAKING SIDES Bryant, lawyer Pamela Mackey and Vanessa (above);Hurlbert (right).

COLOR PHOTO: ED ANDRIESKI/AP (HURLBERT) TAKING SIDES Bryant, lawyer Pamela Mackey and Vanessa (above);Hurlbert (right).