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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Kobe Bryant Admits to Adultery, Maintains It Was Consensual

Aired July 18, 2003 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Eagle County, Colorado's District Attorney charges NBA allstar Kobe Bryant with felony sexual assault. If proven guilty, Bryant could fact up to life in prison. He says he's innocent, but admits to adultery even before the D.A.'s press conference ends. What's his legal defense? And what's the reaction the fans have? We're going to talk about all of that tonight. This is LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES.
Thanks for being with us. I'm Anderson Cooper. A lot to cover this evening. We have 3 correspondents standing by with all the latest details on the Kobe Bryant story. It is developing still at this hour. Gary Tuchman is in Eagle, Colorado where prosecutors announced their decision. Frank Buckley is in Los Angeles, the home of Bryant's team. And Maria Hinojosa is in New York's Madison Square Garden, gauging fan reaction. Let's start with CNN national correspondent, Gary Tuchman. He joins me from Eagle, Colorado. Gary, the latest.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Kobe Bryant was arrested two weeks ago today. Each day since then, we've been waiting from an announcement from the District Attorney here in Eagle County if he would press charges. Today, that district attorney, Mark Hurlbert announced, yes, he will file 1 felony sexual assault charge against Los Angeles superstar. Kobe Bryant now faces the possibility of a maximum life in prison, and a very high profile trial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK HURLBERT, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, EAGLE COUNTY, COLORADO: It is alleged that he caused sexual penetration or intrusion and he caused submission of the victim through actual physical force. And that is contained in the complaints.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: The complaint also tells us that, quote, the defendant caused submission of the victim through the actual application of physical force or physical violence. Kobe Bryant was here in Eagle County, Colorado, because he was about to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery. He was staying in a nearby hotel where he met this 19-year- old woman.

Kobe Bryant is said by many people to be a very good citizen husband and father. He has a new born baby, only 6 months old. But today Bryant in a statement acknowledged that he did have sex with this woman. He said quote, "I am innocent of the charges filed today. I did no assault the woman who accused me. I made the mistake of adultery. I have to answer to my wife and my God for my actions that night and I pray that both will forgive me."

The district attorney would not say many details about what happened that night. He said he did not want to talk about the facts. But a possibility of four years to life in prison if Kobe Bryant is convicted. There also is the possibility he could just get probation if he's convicted and the probation terms under a felony third degree count of sexual assault would be 20 years to life.

Now whatever happened that night happened in Kobe Bryant's room in a hotel called the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, a hotel that caters to the wealthy who want peace and quiet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN: Before you even see the resort, you see the efforts made to keep the general public away. High in the Colorado mountains electronic security gates. Behind the gates the Belgian chateau influenced Lodge and Spa, Cordillera; prestigious and exclusive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pricey but they pamper their guests. Take real good care of their people. Lots and lots of high profile people go there simply for the fact they know they'll be left alone.

TUCHMAN: Kobe Bryant was staying in a room like this. One of only 56 rooms in the complex. The hotel advertises the property as a place that provides solitude and contemporary comforts as well as one of the top ten spas in the nation. The rooms are spread out. It's highly unlikely one would ever hear casual noise from another room.

It's a hotel used to high profile clientele, but not high high- profile controversy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN: We are told the alleged victim is having a rough time and remains in seclusion just a short distance from where we're standing right now here Eagle County, Colorado. Kobe Bryant will have to come back to this courthouse behind me on August 6 for his initial appearance in court. That's two weeks from Wednesday. He will be read his rights and will be read the charges when he shows up in court.

We can tell you based upon the normal timetable for sexual assault cases in this county a trial would begin right in the middle of the next NBA season. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Alright, Gary Tuchman, thanks for the update. Now how will today's announcement effect Bryant's team, the Los Angeles Lakers? For that angle let's turn to CNN's Frank Buckley in Los Angeles -- Frank.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. In a couple hours Mitch Kupchak the general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers is expected to appear here at Staples Center along with Pamela Mackey who is Kobe Bryant's criminal defense attorney. Kupchak expected to issue some sort of statement on behalf of the team. You'll recall Kupchak is the one who said, immediately after the arrest was revealed on July 4. He's the one who said that the allegations against Kobe Bryant were out of character with the Kobe Bryant that they all knew. He also described Bryant as one of the finest young men we've known.

That was immediately after the arrest on July 4. Today the Lakers are not working out and they are not talking, but earlier I did have a chance to speak with John Ireland who is the Los Angeles Lakers sideline reporter for the K-CAL TV broadcasts, those are the Laker broadcasts here in Los Angeles. He has traveled extensively with the team, has seen Kobe Bryant for years. Here was John's reaction to the revelations today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN IRELAND: It's out of character, Frank. As a matter of fact, Kobe is the hardest Laker to get to when the Lakers are on the road. He travels with two bodyguards full time, these were guys that were with him when he was in Colorado. He doesn't -- you can't call him at the hotel. He checks in under an alias. He's very difficult to get to because there are a lot of girls and he knows, there are a lot of girls that will be trying to get to him.

This NBA life-style, I've noticed, traveling with these guys for the past few years, it's a common thing. I mean, a lot of girls wait in the lobby. A lot of women hang out trying to get at these guys and Kobe knew it and put up a defense against it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCKLEY: John was also saying that if he had been told all of the facts related to this case, but the name had been left out, that is the name of the player. He said Kobe Bryant would be have been the last player that he would have expected to be facing allegations like this. Kobe Bryant has a great deal of goodwill that's been built up in this community. If anyone has -- will be given the benefit of the doubt it will be Kobe Bryant -- Anderson.

COOPER: Alright, interesting. Frank Buckley, thanks for the update. As you can imagine, there's strong reaction from Kobe Bryant fans and sports fans in general to today's announcement. Maria Hinojosa is outside Madison Square Gardens Arena in which Bryant has played many times over the years. And where tonight, the WNBA is about to play. Maria, what are you hearing?

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know Anderson, Kobe Bryant may play for a team across the country in Los Angeles but has his share of fans here in New York City, probably a good symbol of what a national powerhouse he is. When I came down here in front of Madison Square Gardens just minutes after he had been charged with sexual assault to talk to his fans, there are some who reacted with shock and disbelief, there were some who were angry, a lot who were skeptical, but no doubt, Anderson, there are a lot of his fans who are having mixed emotions about Kobe Bryant tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think maybe it's just they just want attention, they want money or something off of him. Because he's famous for his ball game and it's just -- it happens a lot, you know, with celebrities and basketball players and stuff like that.

HINOJOSA: What do you think about it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think -- I just think they want the money.

HINOJOSA: So you don't believe the woman?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a good example, I mean if it's, in fact, true, the allegations are true, no, it's terrible. He doesn't set a good precedence for all kids and sports fans.

HINOJOSA: Are you going to stop being a fan because of this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, but I wouldn't put him as a role model for my kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't look at him any different than what he is. I think he's still a great basketball star.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HINOJOSA: Now, Anderson, there are a lot of people who say that even though they're disillusioned by this entire scenario, many of them said that they still want to wait until this case is resolved completely before they make any final determinations -- final and complete determinations before what they feel about Kobe Bryant -- Anderson.

COOPER: Maria Hinojosa, thanks very much for the update.

Now as we mentioned, if he is convicted Kobe Bryant would could face up to life in prison. Joining us to discuss the case against him, his possible defense, is Lisa Bloom an anchor for Court TV as well as Michael Smerconish, a radio and talk show host. He joins us in Philadelphia. Appreciate both of you being with us. Lisa, let me start off with you. How surprised are you by this charge?

LISA BLOOM, ANCHOR COURT TV: I'm not surprised by the charge. I am surprised that Kobe Bryant apparently has changed his story today. You'll recall about a week ago in an interview with the "L.A. Times" he said people who know me know I wouldn't do something like this. Today apparently because of DNA test results being disclosed he has admitted, in fact, that he engaged in an adulterous relationship. Let's keep in mind what he's admitting.

COOPER: And this statement, by the way, came out even before the press conference was even over.

BLOOM: Yes, carefully timed and some of the news stations were running along the crawl at the bottom of the screen his denial, even as Mark Hurlbert, the prosecutor, was in the middle of his press conference. But keep in mind what Kobe is admitting today, it is significant. He is admitting, essentially, that he engaged in unprotected sex with a complete stranger while his newborn baby is at home with his newly wed wife. That should wipe out his squeaky clean image.

COOPER: How do you know -- you don't know for a fact that it was unprotected sex?

BLOOM: Well, because we have DNA evidence and that's the assumption. We know from the witness list that was attached to the complaint which has been publicly released, that there is a criminal list involved in the case. That to me means physical evidence. We also know from the prosecutor's press conference that there is physical evidence. You can be sure that's been shared with Kobe Bryant and his attorneys and that he's aware of those test results. And I'm quite confident that is that is why today and only today he's admit at least to having some sexual relations with this woman.

COOPER: Michael, your thoughts? You're surprised by the charges and by the statement by Kobe Bryant and his wife?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, ATTORNEY: My friend Lisa has already convicted Kobe Bryant and I think that's unfortunate because, Anderson, at this stage, we don't know which one is the victim. I think that when Kobe Bryant a week ago said to the "L.A. Times" you know that this is not like me, he wasn't talking about having an adulterous relationship, he was essentially saying you know me, I'm not the sort of a person who would rape a woman.

I can tell you I carried the CNN feed live on my radio program live in Philadelphia today. That press conference and took calls for an hour from Philadelphiaens and uniformly people said this is so out of character for Kobe Bryant.

BLOOM: Yes, but Michael, keep in mind, Kobe Bryant has in my opinion changed his story. When he said he would never do something like this, I took that, as I think most people did, as a complete denial of having any kind of sexual relations with that young woman. Now, in contrast, the victim's behavior has been A plus. She has not sold her story, she has not filed a civil complaint, she has not spoken publicly. She immediately went to the police and she immediately went and got medical tests done. She has not changed her store and apparently Kobe Bryant as of today has.

SMERCONISH: Just in the same way that you and I have agreed that Scott Peterson cheating on his wife doesn't mean he killed her. Kobe Bryant cheating on his wife does not mean, Lisa, that he raped this woman.

BLOOM: No, of course it doesn't mean that he raped her.

SMERCONISH: There's far more that we don't know than what we know at this stage.

COOPER: Does his credibility -- I mean, has his credibility suffered, Michael, in your opinion?

SMERCONISH: Oh, absolutely his credibility has suffered, but I don't think that you can necessarily say that Kobe Bryant raped this woman because he's now admitting that he had a relationship which her. Look Anderson, it's pretty clear to me there is a blue dress, so to speak, in this case. I was surprised by how quickly Kobe Bryant came out and said I did have an adulterous relationship, however it may just mean that he's got his ducks in a row from a legal standpoint on the defense, that he's willing to acknowledge this but that it was a consensual relationship.

COOPER: Why not come earlier forward and say I had an adulterous relationship? Why time specifically to this?

SMERCONISH: Why tarnish his own family with that revelation if charges were not going to be brought. When Kobe Bryant decided whether he'd reveal that relationship, I think it's only natural that he'd first want to know, am I going to be charged?

COOPER: Let's talk about what's going to happen down the road. What is this witness, what is this alleged victim, the female, have in front of her, both in terms of not only what's going to happen to her in the courtroom, but what's going to happen to her before this thing gets to trial?

BLOOM: Well we can learn a lot by looking at the witness list, Anderson, and the witness list, which is attached to the complaint, has as prosecution witnesses, the victim herself, whose name is blacked out, one investigator, one deputy, six detectives, two nurses and a criminalist. Now notice what's not on that list, a cab driver, somebody who was in the hotel room next door, somebody else who may have heard something, seen something. What that tells me it's going to be the victim's word against Kobe Bryant and there's going to be some physical evidence. And that's pretty much the entire case.

COOPER: Well Michael Smerconish, do you agree with that? Do you think this is going to boil down a he said she said.

SMERCONISH: I think it is going to boil down to he said she said with one except, and that is, you know, is there an abrasion, is there a bruise, is there anything at all that gives credence to the view that this was a forced proposition.

What I didn't see when I looked at that complaint, and I think Lisa is saying the same thing, I did not see a name of an individual who, one would think, is another guest at that hotel. There have been differing accounts as to whether there was a call made to the front desk because somebody heard a skirmish. I did not see the name of an individual that I believed to be another guest at the hotel.

BLOOM: Well that is correct, Michael. I would agree with that. Although I was surprised to see that the complaint is quite clear in alleging Kobe Bryant used physical force to overcome this victim and to make her submit to his will.

COOPER: Which would imply they have some sort of physical evidence?

BLOOM: Well I think so. But also, you know, rape can be a psychologically coerced, that is not alleged in this complaint. We're talking a 6'4 professional athlete and presumably a much smaller person.

COOPER: That doesn't boil down to he said, she said.

BLOOM: Well not necessarily, because there could be some evidence. There could be furniture that was overturned, or was somehow damaged; certainly damage on her body, abrasion, lacerations, bruises, something of that nature.

COOPER: But you're saying if it's a psychological coercion as opposed to a physical coercion.

BLOOM: Then we wouldn't expect to see that, but that's not what's alleged here. This prosecutor has really gone out on a limb and alleged a much more difficult case of showing physical violence against this woman. And let's be clear, this is a rape case. Mark Hulbert the local prosecutor, 34 years-old, clearly the underdog against the Colorado dream team Kobe Bryant has already assembled, but he says he can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. He's got to have physical evidence saying that.

SMERCONISH: I have suspicions that Lisa is correct. When I looked at him, and by the way Anderson, I thought he performed beautifully under the glare of the national television lights, 34 years old, biggest case of a lifetime. And as I watched the events unfold I said to myself he has something beyond just having her word.

COOPER: Lisa let me ask you again about this alleged victim, this female. Already a local paper is trying to get the city to release some 911 calls that were made sometime in the last year to police from her house. Is that sort of a taste of what she can expect? I mean, are private detectives going to be pouring over her past?

BLOOM: Absolutely. And every media outlet is going to be all over her. Mark Hulbert begged the press today repeatedly in his press conference to please leave her alone. You can be sure that that will be ignored. Everyone is going to want her story. Everyone is going to want her to talk.

I also thought the D.A. said something interesting today in his press conference which is this is a difficult case. He said that repeatedly. I don't know if he's saying that because Kobe Bryant is a celebrity and it's difficult for him, or because he doesn't think he has the evidence. But In a sense, he's the advocate for the victim and I was disappointed to hear him say right off the bat, this is a difficult days

COOPER: Michael Smerconish the sort of -- the genesis of this was sort of a strange thing. I mean, the sheriff arrested this man before the D.A. had signed off on it, apparently. Is that going to come back before the trial, you think? Is the defense going to try to use that?

SMERCONISH: No, I don't think that will come back during the trial. I don't know how that would be admissible in and of itself. But Anderson, it was peculiar, because you're right, what happened was that the sheriff went off and conducted the arrest in this case and then the D.A. came along and essentially said, not so fast, I want to conduct an investigation before I go bringing these charges.

What mark Hulbert also said today is, because he was questioned on that point that Lisa just made, is your heart really in this essentially, and he said I've got an ethical obligation to be certain in my own mind that I can win the case before I bring it. Now I'm paraphrasing and so I took that to mean he thinks, indeed, he's going to win this case.

This case has all the elements, you know, we've talked on this particular program and others about the Laci Peterson case. I think it pales in comparison when you look at the -- all the facts, you've got sex, you've got the racial issues, you've got a high profile celebrity in this case. This is O.J. in the making.

BLOOM: Well, keep in mind, we also have two very high profile defense attorneys in this case, Pamela Mackey and Hale Hadden. They represented John and Patsy Ramsey in the death of JonBenet Ramsey. Never been charged, that certainly is a feather in their cap.

COOPER: We'll have to end it there. Michael Smerconish appreciate it. Lisa Bloom thanks as well.

Alright joining us now CNN center is Steve Overmyer of CNN sports. Steve thanks for being with us. I think a lot of people were, perhaps, surprised to hear Kobe Bryant's wife's statement really coming out strongly in support of her husband despite the admission of adultery?

STEVE OVERMYER, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think so. No doubt about, but that just shows the strength of their marriage and I think a lot of people are saying this is a private matter, this is -- he's admitted to adultery.

COOPER: Does it tell you something about the culture of the NBA?

OVERMYER: I don't know. What would it say? I mean, I guess if you wanted to be cynical you could say that some wives stay with their husbands in the NBA just because they have the money, but you could look at it a totally different perspective, that they will fight no matter, I guess, to what extreme to make sure that the marriage stays intact. I guess it depends on really how you can look on it.

COOPER: I think a lot of people who were following this, though, are surprised to hear Kobe Bryant traveling with bodyguards. What is that about? I mean talk a little bit about this culture of the NBA. Why is that necessary?

OVERMYER: Well you know, these guys do live basically in a -- I guess they live in a fish bowl. Everybody is watching where they go, everybody watches their every move. They are NBA stars and it's almost like everybody is waiting for them to mess up and when they mess up, it's like you know what, I told you so.

I would imagine that these guys have the bodyguards to prevent that from happening. I mean, we saw many -- many a times what has happened to guys like Charles Barkley, who has been known to I guess get into a few scuffles on his own, with the bodyguards, it certainly, I guess, it protects him a little bit from getting into physical altercations like that. I guess it didn't protect Kobe in this incident.

COOPER: Alright, Steve Overmyer, CNN sports, thanks very much.

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