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Incorrect Photo Circulating on Internet as Kobe Bryant's Accuser

Aired July 25, 2003 - 19:23   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Kobe Bryant case now.
After a judge ordered lawyers to stop talking about the Kobe Bryant case, the small town of Eagle, Colorado, where the sexual assault allegedly occurred, is putting its own brakes on the growing swirl of publicity.

And to add to controversy the family of a woman who was wrongly pictured on the Internet as Bryant's accuser is up in arms. We're going to talk to the woman's mother in just a moment.

But first, our Rusty Dornin joins us from Vail, Colorado, with the details on a new ruling by the judge that will allow cameras in the courtroom -- Rusty.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The cameras will be in the courtroom on August 6, Anderson, just one motion camera and one still camera.

But getting back here to Vail Valley, the four or five towns that have been besieged by journalists over the past few weeks that are near where the incident occurred. And of course, what happens in small towns is everybody's talking. Some of it truth, a lot of it nowhere near the truth.

Some of the people know the alleged victim, some of them barely. As a result, there is a lot of rumor and innuendo out there and a lot of some people are even getting caught up in this that have nothing to do with the case.

A young woman whose picture was mistakenly put on the Internet recently, family is very upset. You'll be speaking to her in just a few moments.

But also, the families here of the young woman are asking the -- her friends not speak to journalists anymore.

Also the hotels in town, at least three hotels that we know of have told their employees not to talk to journalists or they will be fired. One hotel employee who had approached me one day, the next day asked me please not to tell anyone the things that he has told me. He said he had two children and he was afraid he was going to be fired.

So there's a lot of fallout that happens from a high-profile case like this, as I said, from a lot of the gossip and innuendo that goes on.

The judge, of course, is trying to stop some of that by putting a clamp on the people directly involved in the case, telling the prosecution, telling the defense, the law enforcement and court agencies not to talk about this case directly.

But it's very difficult, as you know, in a case like this, Anderson, to stop people in a community from leaking information, be it the truth or not.

COOPER: And it has only just begun. Rusty Dornin, thanks very much.

Now CNN, like many media outlets, have of course, withheld the identity of the woman who's accused Kobe Bryant of sexual assault, and CNN will continue to do so.

But details and pictures are surfacing, particularly on the Internet. And in one unbelievable case, photos of another Colorado woman have appeared on a web site that wrongly identifies her as the accuser.

Her family, as you can imagine, incensed.

Joining me now is the woman's mother, Beth Matthews, and her attorney, Sienna LaRene.

Appreciate both of you joining us. Beth, let me start off with you. How did you and your daughter first come to discover that her picture was wrongly put up on this web site?

BETH MATTHEWS, MOTHER OF WOMAN FALSED I.D.'D AS ACCUSER: A friend actually called her at work and explained that he was on the chat room with someone the night before. He sent her the picture and she was able to view it herself and show it to me.

COOPER: And then when she showed it to you and you saw the pictures, what went through your mind?

MATTHEWS: I was -- I couldn't believe it. It was disbelief. It was how could this happen to us? And obviously it's just a mistake so it will pass.

COOPER: But it didn't pass, did it?

MATTHEWS: No it didn't. It escalated.

COOPER: Do you have any sense of where these pictures came from? I mean, did some, you know, alleged friend of hers put these up there?

MATTHEWS: Well, we know that they came from the Eagle Valley High School web site, and that's about as much as we do know for sure.

COOPER: Have you tried to contact this web site? Explain to them that this is not the right person? MATTHEWS: Well, the original one web site, yes. I typed in a little note saying please, you've got the wrong picture, please take it off the web site.

However, as fast as that got through, there were 50, then 100, then it just -- it snowballed from one to the next to where I felt futile, that there was no way I was going to be able to sit there often my computer and respond to all the various sites.

COOPER: And Sienna, I guess that's the thing about the Internet. I mean, once it's up there and it's downloaded and then it's sent to friends and people, and it's out there. There's no turning back.

SIENNA LARENE, ATTORNEY: Well, Anderson, it's more than out there. There are 43 million web sites and probably half again as many chat rooms associated with those web sites which are not searchable to target material that may be on them.

So basically you have a runaway machine here. Very, very difficult to contain, taking on a life of its own. And certainly there's profit for web sites when they make hits.

The combination of the pull of the interest of the public, the fact that there's a vacuum surrounding the Kobe Bryant case, making the public relatively frenzied for any piece of information, and the pull of the web sites bringing people onto the sites with pictures of a young girl and salacious material, is creating its own monster.

COOPER: Beth, how is your daughter doing in all this? I mean, I can't even imagine how her life has changed in the last, you know, week or however long this thing has been out there.

MATTHEWS: Her life is definitely changing. Her -- her attitude, I think, has changed a little bit. She's tired of all the media that's been approaching her, as well as all the friends that keep saying, do you know you're on the Internet?

I mean, any time somebody new discovers that it's there, we're getting phone calls, her cell phone, the house phone, the homes where she lives, where she works, where she hangs out.

So obviously it's interrupting the normalcy of her life.

COOPER: And do you want to sue? Do you plan on suing? Is there anyone really to sue? Is there anything you think you can do about this?

LARENE: Can I address that?

COOPER: Sure, Sienna.

LARENE: As the attorney of the family, basically we've been into this now for a few days, and the effort here is to attempt to contain and to stop the distribution, proliferation and escalation of these photographs in the context of the Kobe Bryant case. I think down the road when the dust settles, there is absolutely no question that libel -- a libelous situation exists, based on the reckless dissemination of these photographs without any attempt to check if this, in fact, was the complainant in the case. Albeit that would have been bad enough.

You have a town, Eagle, Colorado, of 3,700 people, all of whom basically know each other. Somebody couldn't have gotten through the third person to know this was the wrong picture.

Reckless? Absolutely. Potential libel suit, absolutely. But that baby hasn't been born yet. We haven't discussed that with the family, because right now they've circled the wagons around their daughter and we're just trying to distribute the word that this is the wrong picture, this is the wrong girl. Extremely unfair to take a girl who is as far removed from the situation as the man on the moon and put her in the middle of a maelstrom of this sensational pace.

COOPER: Well said, Sienna LaRene, attorney. I appreciate you joining us.

And Beth Matthews, I'm sorry you've been caught up in all this. Appreciate you coming out, trying to clear it up and our best to your daughter. Thank you very much.

LARENE: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much.



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