Bryant Charged with Felony Sex Assault

07/18/2003 12:00PM

In an announcement that has rocked the sports world, NBA star Kobe Bryant has been charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman during a recent visit to a Colorado resort, prosecutors in that state announced Friday.

Eagle County, Colo., District Attorney Mark Hurlburt, 34, announced at a press conference that the Los Angeles Lakers star, 24, was charged with one count of sexual assault -- a class-three felony that can carry a prison term of four years to life and a probation period of 20 years to life.

Following the press conference, Bryant released a statement saying, "I am innocent of the charges filed today. I did not assault the woman who is accusing 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," he added, according to ESPN. "Nothing that happened June 30 was against the will of the woman who now falsely accuses me."

The alleged incident occurred June 30 at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, a four-star lodge near the resort town of Vail where Bryant was staying and where the woman works as a concierge. On July 1, the Lakers guard was scheduled for knee surgery at Vail's Steadman Hawkins Clinic.

Hurlburt emphasized that Bryant's celebrity status did not come into play when deciding whether to press the charge. "This decision came only after reviewing all the evidence -- testimonial evidence and physical evidence ... and conferring with prosecutors from around the state," he said. "Then and only then did I make my decision."

Hurlburt said that he can prove this case "beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt."

Prior to the announcement, Hurlburt's office had been reviewing a report from the state crime laboratory analyzing evidence in the case from both Bryant and the alleged victim, whose name has not been revealed.

At the press conference, Hurlburt said he could not comment on the facts in the case. But he did say that Bryant's court date to face the charge is Aug. 6 at 3 p.m. Hurlburt also asked members of the media "to respect the victim's privacy."

The investigation first became public when the sheriff's office in Eagle County, Colo., about 100 miles west of Denver, announced on July 6 that an arrest warrant had been issued for Bryant. Two days earlier, Bryant turned himself and posted a $25,000 bond.

From the time that the news broke, Bryant -- who is married and has what's been called a sterling personal and professional record -- has maintained his innocence, and his attorney said he will be completely cleared.

In an interview that appeared in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, Bryant said he "would never do something like that."

Various press reports on his accuser say she is a familiar figure in Eagle as a former high school cheerleader and musician who last year tried out to be on "American Idol."

Bryant met his wife, Vanessa Laine, in April 2001, and the two became engaged while she was still in high school. Their first child, Natalia Diamante Bryant, was born in January.

Despite the investigation, the pair attended this week's ESPY Awards in Los Angeles. His wife also released a statement Friday supporting her husband.

"I know that my husband has made a mistake -- the mistake of adultery. He and I will have to deal with that within our marriage, and we will do so," she said, adding, "He is not a criminal. I know that he did not commit a crime, he did not assault anyone. He is a loving and kind husband and father. I believe in his innocence."

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