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Original Issue

A New Witness Prosecutors plan to subpoena a woman who could alter the course of the Kobe Bryant case

The past five weeks could not have gone much worse for the team
prosecuting the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case. A court clerk
mistakenly released to the media transcripts of a closed hearing
involving the accuser's sexual history, and the court later
posted on its website a sealed document that revealed the
accuser's last name, prompting an apology from trial judge Terry
Ruckriegle. Lead prosecutor Mark Hurlbert withdrew from the case.
Ruckriegle ruled that certain information about the accuser's
sexual history was admissible and also released a transcript
revealing that Bryant's accuser received more than $17,000 from a
victim-compensation fund--which the defense spun to suggest that
she had a financial motive to lie. Now, however, an aggressive
move by prosecutors may shift the momentum, and even drag
Shaquille O'Neal into court as a witness.

SI has learned that prosecutors plan to subpoena a 22-year-old
Florida waitress who claims she was the object of unwanted sexual
advances by Bryant. Prosecutors have notified Bryant's lawyers
that the woman may be called as a witness at the trial, set to
begin on Aug. 27 in Eagle, Colo. Her testimony might be used by
the prosecution to show that aggressive sexual actions are part
of Bryant's pattern of behavior. (Pamela Mackey, Bryant's lead
attorney, did not respond to SI's efforts to reach her.)

According to the Florida woman and others familiar with her
allegation, she was among the employees of Orlando's Planet
Hollywood restaurant who worked at a private party at O'Neal's
home on Thanksgiving 2002. The Lakers were in Orlando to play the
Magic, and O'Neal, who owns a 26,000-square-foot house in the
city's Isleworth neighborhood, hosted a team dinner.

The woman alleges that Bryant approached her and asked for her
cellphone number, which she provided. Later, Bryant asked her to
get him a soft drink and bring it to him outside, which she did
in the presence of another man. Bryant then cornered her and
groped her private parts. She says Bryant laughed as she pushed
him away, and that she retreated inside O'Neal's home and called
her mother. The next day, the woman says, she received a call
from a man who said he was an associate of Bryant's, apologizing
for Bryant's behavior.

The woman did not initially report any of this to the police. But
after Bryant was charged on July 18, 2003, she saw the news
conference at which he said of his accuser, "I didn't force her
to do anything against her will. I am innocent." This prompted
the Florida woman to call Colorado prosecutors and report her
alleged encounter with Bryant. After hearing her story, according
to sources in the Los Angeles D.A.'s office, investigators from
L.A. teamed with Eagle prosecutors and contacted O'Neal through
his agent, Perry Rogers, and told him that O'Neal could become a
witness in Bryant's case. Within hours the investigators heard
from David Chesnoff, a criminal defense lawyer who said he
represented O'Neal. Though the investigators assured him that his
client was not a suspect, Chesnoff said O'Neal would not speak
with them. O'Neal could, however, be called to testify in
Colorado. (Chesnoff and Rogers told SI that they could not
discuss anything related to their client.)

A subpoena was required for the Florida woman because she had
decided that she did not want to be a witness in a case in which
the accuser has been subjected to threats and smears. Her
participation is significant, though, because it could cause
Bryant's lawyers to think twice before calling their client to
the stand. Under Colorado rules of evidence, the Florida woman
can be called as a rebuttal witness by the prosecution, now led
by Ingrid Bakke and Dana Easter--the career sex-crime prosecutors
who took over for Hurlbert. John Wolfe, a Seattle lawyer who has
represented a dozen pro athletes in sexual assault cases, says it
leaves Bryant and his lawyers with a "Hobson's choice: If he
doesn't testify, he loses the ability to tell the jury that it
was consensual sex. If he does testify, he opens the door for
another accuser to allege nonconsensual sexual activity."

If the Florida woman does testify, it will be up to the jurors to
decide if they see meaningful similarities between Bryant's
alleged behavior in Florida and Colorado. According to documents
viewed by SI, the accuser in Colorado told police that the first
nonconsensual act by Bryant was the groping of her private parts.
When she resisted and tried to flee, according to her statement,
Bryant allegedly restrained her and blocked the door to his room.

Speaking about Bryant's case last week on Z100 radio in Portland,
O'Neal said his former teammate would need a jury of
rappers--"Ludacris, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg"--to get off. Few
observers see the case as that one-sided, but Bakke and Easter
may have succeeded in putting new obstacles in Bryant's path to
freedom. --Jeff Benedict


"His injuries are likely the result of the campaign through the
Triple Crown." --SMARTY'S OVER, PAGE 29