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SATI e-News: January 2, 2004
Sexual Assault News
- Police ruse that yielded
suspect's DNA is upheld
- Judge in Peterson case
ruled that prosecutors can use mitochondrial DNA
- Segregating DNA Key to
agreement in lawsuit against Louisiana State Police
- Man cited for contempt of
court for refusing to provide buccal swab
- City doesn't have
insurance to fight lawsuit filed by man exonerated by DNA
- DNA Funding
- Orchid Cellmark Awarded FBI
- Appropriations Bill for FY 2004 includes $100 million for
- House passes Advancing Justice Through DNA DNA Technology
Act of 2003
DNA News from Around the
United States & Abroad
Promising Practices: From
the Desk of the Training Director
- DNA Clears PA Death Row Inmate
after 21 Years
- Wrongly Imprisoned Man Wins
$5.3 Million Settlement
- Gloves left behind by
finger-print conscious suspect provide DNA
- From the Desk of the Training
Director: Evaluating and Measuring Law Enforcement Success
In Sexual Assault Cases,
Athletes Usually Walk
By Tom Weir and Erik Brady, USA Today
December 22, 2003
Find this article at:
As Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case winds its way through
pretrial motions and hearings, the Los Angeles Lakers star may
have one intangible factor working in his favor. USA TODAY
research of 168 sexual assault allegations against athletes in
the past dozen years suggests sports figures fare better at
trial than defendants from the general population.
Of those 168 allegations, involving 164 athletes, only 22 saw
their cases go to trial, and only six cases resulted in
convictions. In another 46 cases, a plea agreement was reached.
Combined with the six athletes convicted at trial and one who
pleaded guilty as charged, that gives the athletes a 32% total
conviction rate in the resolved cases. That means more than
two-thirds were never charged, saw the charges dropped or were
acquitted. (Related item:
Cases involving athletes and sexual assault)
"I would say almost the exact opposite would be true in the
normal course of business," says Nancy O'Malley, who chairs the
sexual assault committee of the California District Attorneys
Association and who is Alameda County's chief assistant district
"In some areas, the conviction rate is 80-85%" at trial,
O'Malley says. In Alameda County, which includes Oakland and
Berkeley, "we probably have a 90% conviction rate of those that
go to trial."
National statistics also suggest most ordinary defendants
charged with sexual assault are punished. In May 1998 the U.S.
Department of Justice tracked rape charges in the nation's 75
largest counties and found 52% of the defendants in 586 cases
were convicted of rape and 14% were convicted of some other
crime, either at trial or through pleas.
"It's not surprising that it's a relatively low conviction rate"
for prominent athletes, says Linda Fairstein, former head of the
sex crimes unit in the Manhattan district attorney's office in
New York and a board member of the National Center for Victims
"These are cases where frequently even if the claim is
legitimate there is enormous pressure on the victim not to press
charges, that you're ruining his career," Fairstein says.
Prosecutors who have handled these high-profile cases say they
also face a hurdle because of the "he said-she said" nature of
sexual assault trials, particularly when a celebrity defendant's
word is pitted against that of an accuser unknown to jurors,
which figures to be the scenario in Bryant's trial.
Charges were dropped in 20% of the resolved athlete-related
incidents, and in an additional 36% law enforcement authorities
never filed formal charges.
There is another explanation, to be sure, for why so many
athletes are never charged. Because of their celebrity or
wealth, they can be targets for false allegations.
No charges, for example, were filed against Pittsburgh Steelers
running back Jerome Bettis after a 2002 sexual assault
accusation. The district attorney in Westmoreland County, Pa.,
said he found evidence of a scheme to entrap Bettis and extort
Stats in sex cases questionable
As victim-support groups point out, statistics on sexual assault
are subject to question, because, they say, only about 16% of
such cases are reported.
USA TODAY's research included newspaper and wire service
databases and interviews with district attorneys, defense
lawyers and court officials. The research covered the period
from the rape conviction of former world heavyweight boxing
champion Mike Tyson in February 1992 — the last time a sexual
assault allegation against an athlete so dominated the sports
world — to the present.
The 168 allegations all involved either current or former
athletes at the pro level and in NCAA Division I football and
basketball. Of them, 162 have been publicly resolved; the others
are four pending cases, another with a sealed outcome and one in
which the outcome could not be ascertained.
Bryant appeared in court Friday for a motions hearing regarding
a 19-year-old woman's allegation he sexually assaulted her June
30 at a resort near Vail where she worked as a concierge.
Bryant, who was in Colorado to have knee surgery, has publicly
admitted having sex with the woman but says it was consensual.
Among the motions that have been filed by Bryant's lawyers is
one seeking to admit evidence that his accuser had been
prescribed an anti-psychotic drug and also made "purported
suicide attempts" to get attention from an ex-boyfriend.
Bryant's lawyers also are challenging the constitutionality of
Colorado's rape shield law, which limits what defense lawyers
can use at trial about a rape victim's sexual history. Eagle
County's chief detective in the case has testified that the
panties the accuser wore to the hospital for her physical exam
the day after her encounter with Bryant contained semen and
sperm that weren't Bryant's.
Bryant's legal team also wants to prevent prosecutors from using
at trial evidence police took from Bryant on July 2, including
clothing and other items obtained during a physical exam of
Bryant's attorneys sought, and failed to win, a dismissal of the
charges in October.
Pressure to prosecute?
B. Todd Jones, the Minneapolis attorney who won baseball Hall of
Famer Kirby Puckett an April acquittal on sexual assault
charges, contends some district attorneys may be more inclined
to file charges against a celebrity athlete because they fear
that doing otherwise would make it appear they go easy on famous
"Before Puckett was charged," Jones says, "he went through a
nasty and very public divorce. He already had a taint. That may
have had some impact on the charging decision."
Alan Harris, who prosecuted the case for Hennepin County, said
he "could not disagree more strongly." He said the decision was
based strictly on the facts of the case developed by police
At Puckett's trial, Jones says, the player's standing or
popularity with the Minnesota Twins probably helped.
"He had an outstanding playing career and was beloved in
Minnesota and to a large extent still is," Jones says.
"Sometimes if an athlete is beloved in their locale, some jurors
are predisposed to give a benefit of the doubt. ... Our working
assumption was that if someone wanted to be on that jury, they
didn't want to put Kirby in jail."
Harris declined to comment on that.
Another advantage athletes, at least the pros, enjoy: Because of
their financial resources, they can hire more experienced
lawyers than do most defendants.
Bryant has hired Hal Haddon and Pamela Mackey, partners in the
prestigious Denver law firm of Haddon, Morgan, Mueller, George,
Mackey and Foreman, whose Crawford Hill Mansion offices include
a swimming pool and basketball court.
Both Haddon and Mackey are veterans of high-profile cases.
Haddon represented John and Patsy Ramsey while they were under
suspicion in the death of their daughter, JonBenet, in a case in
which they never were charged with a crime.
Mackey represented Colorado Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy in a
2001 domestic violence case involving his wife. The case was
dismissed by a judge who ruled it fell short of the state
standard for the charge.
Star's word vs. unknown's
Prosecutors say a sexual assault trial becomes more difficult
when a celebrity is involved.
Bryant, 25, is a five-time NBA All-Star whose popularity has led
to multimillion-dollar endorsement deals and numerous television
commercials. For athletes with superstar status and the wealth
it brings, a plea bargain is unlikely, says Puckett's attorney,
"If an athlete pleads to anything, it could have ramifications
on his ability to continue playing in his sport, and it could
have ramifications with respect to civil lawsuits such as
intentional infliction of emotional distress," Jones says. "You
leave yourself open if you have deep pockets."
Unless there is compelling physical evidence, the trial often
can become a case of a celebrity athlete's word against that of
his unknown accuser.
"The nature of the crime is that it almost always takes place in
private," says Camden County, N.J., first assistant prosecutor
James P. Lynch, who reached a plea agreement on sexual assault
charges against former World Boxing Association heavyweight
champion Bruce Seldon in 1998. "Normally, there are no other
Because of that, says Lynch, such trials are "an adversarial
proceeding that is not pleasant and is not geared to making a
victim comfortable. ... These matters frequently come down to
questions of credibility, and it can be difficult if one side
already has a reputation."
Waukesha County, Wis., District Attorney Paul Bucher believes
the reputation of former Green Bay Packers tight end Mark Chmura
played a significant role in a 2001 trial that ended with
Chmura's being acquitted of charges he sexually assaulted a
17-year-old girl at a party.
"First, the big question in the jury's mind is: 'What are we
doing here?' " Bucher says. "Some people don't believe you
should take a he said-she said case against a national
superstar. There is a super presumption of innocence."
Bryant's case doesn't quite fit that mold. The Puckett and
Chmura trials occurred in the areas where the athletes' on-field
performances had made them sports heroes. Bryant's case is being
heard about 750 miles from his home arena.
Under Colorado law, Bryant could go to prison for four years to
life, even as a first offender with no criminal record.
Probation could last a minimum of 20 years, and lifetime
supervision would be possible. Either sentence would include a
state-required management program that evaluates convicted sex
offenders with lie detectors and the plethysmograph, a device
that measures arousal patterns.
The defense attorney in the Chmura case points out that the
intense public scrutiny and the possible repercussions facing a
celebrated athlete can be very wearing.
"What happens to the fellow is incredible," says Gerald Boyle,
whose 10-day defense of Chmura was broadcast on Court TV. "Every
pundit in the nation has an opinion, and it's very, very unfair.
... The aftermath is excruciating. Even when an athlete is found
innocent, there will always be an asterisk on his name."
Referring to one Internet poll last summer in which nearly half
of 167,000 respondents said they thought Bryant was guilty,
Boyle says, "How ... can anybody say that? We don't know the
facts yet. It's a hellish problem."
'Acquaintance factor' key
Establishing the facts can be a problem for both sides in
celebrity cases as well as those against ordinary defendants.
Prosecutors say such cases become more difficult when there is
an "acquaintance factor" — when the accuser and the accused knew
each other before the alleged incident.
At an Oct. 9 pretrial hearing, the Eagle County chief detective
in Bryant's case testified the accuser had greeted Bryant when
he arrived at the hotel and agreed to give him a tour of the
resort, after which she willingly entered his hotel room.
Ken Mauldin, district attorney for the Clarke County, Ga., area,
which includes the University of Georgia campus in Athens, says
the acquaintance factor weighs more heavily with juries in a
sexual assault case than whether it involves an athlete.
Mauldin failed to gain a conviction in an acquaintance-rape case
against a Georgia football player last year but says, "I don't
think it mattered whatsoever to that jury that an athlete was
Mauldin points out he was able to win a stranger-to-stranger
rape case in June even though the victim initially refused to
cooperate with investigators.
"I've run into people who say, 'Put me on that jury, and we'll
convict him.' But when they get behind that jury bar, they're
closer to the Constitution than they will be at any other time
in their lives," Mauldin says. "In my 20 years I think almost
all juries have done a good job of sticking to the facts."
Mary Keenan, the Boulder County, Colo., district attorney who
reopened the JonBenet Ramsey murder case in 2002, says sexual
assault victims often have their credibility challenged if they
did not report the crime quickly or do not remember details
exactly. Keenan contends they may delay because of the trauma
they have suffered.
In acquaintance-rape cases, Keenan says, "You seldom hear the
word 'rape' in the first 12 hours. People don't want to believe
they've been raped."
Instead, Keenan says, "What you go through is self-blaming and
self-guilt, because you know this person. It takes awhile for
the mind to process that it wasn't your fault. That can take 12
hours, 24 hours or 48 hours before it sinks in. In the meantime
a victim will make lots of statements, and you may lose physical
evidence. Until they talk to somebody else, they don't figure
out it's rape, and then the defense uses that against you."
In the Bryant case, Eagle County sheriff's detective Doug
Winters has testified that he interviewed the accuser the day
after the incident, at her parents' home.
Winters also testified that the accuser told him that after
leaving Bryant's room, she returned to the hotel's front desk,
finished her shift and went home. She told a co-worker that
night what had happened, Winters said. The co-worker urged her
to go to police and followed her home that night to make sure
she was OK, he said.
Keenan says the credibility problem "absolutely" plays into
defense efforts to establish reasonable doubt but adds, "We can
work through that. When someone is honest, it shows. ... You sit
down with the victim, and, if they do not have a motive to
fabricate, a good prosecutor knows what they've got."
With that goal in mind, says Keenan, "I meet with the victim
very early on and spend a lot of time emphasizing that telling
the truth can't hurt them. I tell them, 'Tell me the worst thing
an investigator could dig up in your past and use against you,
and let's start with that.' Once they understand the only thing
they have to do is tell the truth, it isn't that difficult."
The dynamics of the Bryant case, however, indicate a grueling
ordeal is ahead for everyone involved.
Puckett's attorney says the effect of a celebrity presence in
court can't be underestimated. "Media scrutiny is magnified by
1,000," says Jones, adding, "I don't like trying a case in a
fishbowl. You had to run a media gantlet outside the courtroom
every day for two weeks."
Looking ahead to Bryant's case in Colorado, Jones says, "It's
going to be a circus. He's got some good lawyers. She and her
family better be buckled up for a very tough ride."
Contributing: Tom Ankner, Tristan Coffelt, Ruth Fogle, Ray
Hicks, Susan O'Brian, Jean Simpson, MaryJo Sylwester
^top of page^
Bryant's Lawyers Subpoena
Accuser's Mom for Victim's Medical Records
By Colleen Slevin, Associated Press Writer
Thu Dec 11, 3:03 PM ET
DENVER - The mother of basketball
star Kobe Bryant's accuser was subpoenaed for a hearing on
whether the defense should have access to the 19-year-old
woman's medical records.
Prosecutors have not decided whether to oppose the subpoena,
district attorney spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said Wednesday.
Defense attorney Pamela Mackey declined to comment.
Bryant, 25, is charged with attacking the 19-year-old last June
at a Colorado resort where she worked. He has said the two had
consensual sex. A call to the accuser's family lawyer was not
immediately returned. Bryant's lawyers have sought records from
the North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley, where authorities
brought the woman in February after determining she was a
"danger to herself."
Some experts have speculated the defense is trying to show that
the woman waived her privacy rights to those records by
discussing them with others, such as her mother. Even if it is
established that the alleged victim waived her privacy rights,
the defense would still have to prove how the records are
relevant to the case, said Wendy Murphy, a former prosecutor and
professor at the New England School of Law.
"The real goal here is to intimidate the victim, violate her
privacy and undermine her relationships," Murphy said. State
District Judge Terry Ruckriegle has rejected a prosecution
motion to seal all court filings related to evidence in the
case. The motion was filed Tuesday and made available Wednesday.
Ruckriegle said attorneys can file motions about Bryant and his
accuser that leave sensitive details to be filed separately
The judge urged attorneys to make sealed filings "sparingly and
wisely." In another order made available Wednesday, Ruckriegle
denied a media request for a camera in the courtroom during the
Dec. 19 hearing, which Bryant must attend. He gave permission
for one camera in the hall
outside the courtroom.
The Los Angeles Lakers (news) star faces four years to life in
prison or 20 years to life on probation if convicted of felony
^top of page^
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