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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Friend of Alleged Kobe Bryant Victim Speaks Out

Aired July 18, 2003 - 20:01   ET

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

SOPHIA CHOI, CNN ANCHOR: After being charged with felony sexual assault, Kobe Bryant released a statement saying he had made the mistake of adultery, adding he -- quote -- "did not assault the woman who is accusing me." That woman, of course, is a 19-year-old hotel concierge who was asked not to be named.
Shanna Sweeney is her friend. And she joins us now from Eagle, Colorado.

Thanks so much for joining us, Shanna.

SHANNA SWEENEY, FRIEND OF ALLEGED KOBE BRYANT VICTIM: Thank you.

CHOI: Have you talked to her? And when did she learn about these charges being brought forward? And what was her reaction?

SWEENEY: I've spoken with her yesterday. So it was before the charges were brought forward. And she sounds very strong. She's doing very well.

CHOI: What's it been like for her this past week? It must have been really difficult.

SWEENEY: Yes. But she's staying strong. She is doing well and she's going forward. And I admire her strength.

CHOI: This is such a small town we're talking about here. I mean, everybody knows her name. It has got to be a really...

SWEENEY: Yes.

CHOI: ... tough experience for her, even just walking down the street.

SWEENEY: I'm sorry. I didn't hear that. What?

CHOI: I said this is such a small town we're talking about here and everybody has got to know her face. It must be hard just to even walk out the door at this point, just to walk down the street for her.

SWEENEY: I imagine it would be. She's staying at home and she's staying to herself.

CHOI: Is she prepared for the publicity that she's about to undertake? I mean, she's about to become a really famous face in a highly watched trial. SWEENEY: I don't think anybody can really prepare for what's going to happen. But she's strong and she has a close circle of friends. And we're all going to be here for her.

CHOI: All right, Shanna Sweeney, thank you so much for joining us.

SWEENEY: Thank you.

CHOI: And now let's take a look at the legal perspective. I'm joined by CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, thanks for joining us.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Hey.

CHOI: So what were your first thoughts when these charges were brought forward? I mean, this is a third-degree sexual assault charge. It could have been worse.

TOOBIN: Well, it could have been worse, but it's still awfully bad.

The defense released a statement, basically at the same time as the prosecution released the charges, saying that he confessed to adultery, but did not say that any sexual assault took place. So, immediately, the issue was joined. This is a case where the defense is consent. There's no doubt that sex took place between the two of them. Was it sexual assault? Was it consensual sex? That's what the trial will be all about.

CHOI: So what does this all come down to? If he's convicted, what will he really face for a first-time offender? Is he going to jail?

TOOBIN: Oh, no question. A crime of violence like this, the minimum is four years, but it will likely be more than that if he's convicted. This is not a crime where you -- technically, you can get probation, but no one would get probation who was convicted of a violent crime like this.

CHOI: Was the prosecution under pressure to bring forward charges kind of to show a show of unity with the sheriff's department, who already went ahead and arrested him?

TOOBIN: Certainly, it was a very strange way, the way this case evolved.

On the day after the alleged crime was reported, you had the sheriff arrest him, arrest Kobe Bryant, without the DA even knowing about it. Then the DA said: Hold on. Wait a minute. I'm not going to file charges until I'm satisfied that there's evidence there.

He then reviewed the charges for two weeks, then went ahead. I think it was prudent of him to do that. It would have been more prudent if they had gotten together from the beginning, the sheriff and the DA, and done nothing for two weeks. There really was no harm in that. And now, by having the sheriff go forward all by himself, he opens the charge, if this case goes to trial, that there was a rush to judgment here, the cops didn't consider alternative scenarios. If he had just waited, that defense wouldn't be available.

CHOI: Now, the prosecutor says he wants to keep this trial in that local town. How likely is that, with the high publicity it's already receiving?

TOOBIN: I think it's actually likely that it will stay in Eagle County, Vail, where it is, because changes of venue occur when entire communities are sort of convulsed by a crime: the sniper case in the Washington suburbs, where everybody thought they might be a victim; the Laci Peterson case, where you had the whole Modesto community mobilized to look for Laci Peterson.

Here, you have a very concentrated period of time. Sure, it got a lot of attention. But I don't think there's nearly as good a case for a change of venue in this case as there is in the others.

CHOI: And, real quickly, the bar has got to be high here for the prosecutor. I mean, he's got to convince this jury that Kobe Bryant is guilty, a famous face, a very loved character.

TOOBIN: I think that's right.

I think, even though the system says everybody's treated the same way, celebrities are popular. That's why they're celebrities. And I think people will go into this trial favorably disposed towards Kobe Bryant. It doesn't mean he'll be acquitted. But I think it does raise the bar for the prosecutors. And they must be confident with the case they have, or I think they wouldn't have brought it.

CHOI: All right, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much for your insights.

TOOBIN: Good to be here.

CHOI: Kobe Bryant is a role model across the nation, especially in Los Angeles, where he's helped the Lakers win three NBA titles.

CNN's Frank Buckley has been gauging the reaction to today's charges.

So, Frank, what are you learning?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, fans clearly upset by the revelations today, but many of them still sticking with Kobe Bryant.

We're expecting a news conference here at Staples Center in about an hour with Pamela Mackey, who is Kobe Bryant's criminal defense attorney. We don't know if Kobe Bryant will be in attendance or not. We are expecting Mitch Kupchak, the general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, to issue a statement on behalf of the team. So far, none of the players making any public statements, but fans have been weighing in. We're outside of Staples Center, where there's a Junior YMCA basketball tournament going on. We talked to some of the spectators and the coaches.

Here's a quick sampling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not Kobe's character. And I hope they find him innocent. He's a tremendous person, man. And I really love him as a fan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My image of Kobe is still the same. I mean, he's still a real well-known basketball player. And he's done a lot for children. He has his own little foundation and everything. And this -- I mean, I still think of him as the same person, but this is going to change the way a lot of fans think. And it's going to make people see him in a different light.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope he didn't forcibly do anything to the girl. That's what she's saying. If that's the case, he should do time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCKLEY: Meanwhile, the admission that Kobe Bryant did at the very least engage in a consensual sexual encounter with the alleged victim has shocked many people, including those who know Kobe Bryant.

I was talking earlier to John Ireland, who is the Los Angeles Lakers sideline reporter for KCAL-TV. That's the local broadcast for the Lakers. He was telling me that Kobe Bryant is one of the most difficult people to get to when he's on the road. John Ireland travels with the Lakers. He says that Kobe Bryant travels with two bodyguards, that he travels under an alias, so you can't get through to Kobe Bryant without going through those bodyguards.

He was saying that, if you had all of the facts of this case and didn't have the name, the last name that he would have expected to have been involved with these allegations was Kobe Bryant -- Sophia.

CHOI: I think it took a lot of his fans by surprise. Thank you so much, Frank Buckley in Los Angeles.

Any defendant is presumed innocent, of course, until proven guilty in a court of law. But the court of public opinion can be swayed by just about any rumor, report, or allegation. So how will Kobe Bryant's marketability be affected, no matter what the outcome of this case?

Sports agent Drew Rosenhaus joins me now from Miami, Florida.

Thank you so much for joining us.

DREW ROSENHAUS, SPORTS AGENT: My pleasure. CHOI: So what is this going to do to his marketability?

ROSENHAUS: It's going to cost him a lot of money, big time. At this point, Kobe has to hope that he can just maintain the deals with his current sponsors, the current marketing companies that he does business with, the endorsement people.

He's definitely not going to get any new deals right now. And he's got to hope that people like Nike and Sprite don't drop him from lucrative contracts, because there are clauses, moral clauses, that would technically be violated, should he be found guilty and maybe even, they can make the argument, with this adultery. So, at the very least, Kobe Bryant has lost what I would say is millions of dollars, perhaps tens of millions of dollars.

CHOI: Well, if he's cleared of all the charges, does that still stand or does that return him to kind of normal standing, especially within endorsements?

ROSENHAUS: My feeling is twofold.

No. 1, he'll never quite return to the same stature, even if he's exonerated, because he's now admitted that he committed adultery. And I think that there will be some people in the public and in the advertising world that will no longer look at him as the squeaky- clean, perfect marketing opportunity. Kobe Bryant is one of the most marketable athletes in the world, maybe in the top five. So that is no longer the case, in my opinion, no matter what.

If he's exonerated, he'll certainly return to marketability maybe six months from after the decision in the case, a year from now. But then there's the civil case that's sure to follow suit. This is damaging to him, whether or not he's exonerated. But I certainly think, if he is exonerated, he can recoup a lot of the losses and get back to the status that perhaps he once had.

CHOI: Well, tonight, who is Kobe Bryant feeling a lot of pressure from, besides his wife, I mean, the NBA, his fans, his -- the advertisers out there?

ROSENHAUS: Everybody.

I mean, unfortunately for Kobe Bryant, he may be guilty of nothing except adultery, which believe me, I'm not excusing. But the reality is that he is now feeling a ton of heat. The NBA is feeling a lot of heat. This is one of their superstars. They need him. They needed him to be a role model, to be a good citizen, to be a great example. They needed him to be a true superstar. That has taken a huge hit.

So the NBA, the fellow players, his teammates -- remember, the Lakers are on a roll. They've had an amazing off-season. This is now a huge distraction. This is a big setback to the Laker organization, a huge setback to the young man who we forget is in his early 20s, who didn't have the benefit of going to college, who obviously admitted he made a mistake, at at least the level that he has admitted to. Let's hope that he is exonerated. Let's hope that this is something that can be clarified in the future.

But, right now, the young man has taken a huge hit. From a marketing standpoint, he's got his work cut out for him. And he's got a lot of work to do to try and get back to where he was, if that's ever possible.

CHOI: Final question: If you were his agent, what would you advise him to do tonight?

ROSENHAUS: Well, right now, I think he's done a lot of the right things. He's admitted that he made a mistake by committing adultery. He has defended himself.

I think, once he's made that statement, he now has to allow the legal process to take care of itself. He's got to maintain a low profile, because the more he says, the more times he's in the news, the more times it's brought up. He's got to admit that he made a mistake in terms of the adultery. He's got to attack and defend from -- let his attorneys and the legal team go to work to exonerate him, to concentrate on basketball, stay away from the limelight right now, focus on repairing whatever damage may be done with his family, his teammates, his fans, and the community.

And, certainly, he's got to get his personal life in order. That would be my advice to him.

CHOI: Drew Rosenhaus, thank you so much for joining us.

ROSENHAUS: My pleasure.

CHOI: Take care.

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