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Kobe Bryant Defense Team to Delay Trial Date?

Aired August 8, 2003 - 20:23   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Turning now to the Kobe Bryant case, could the defense delay the trial until the 2004 NBA season ends? Eagle, Colorado's former deputy DA is quoted in today's ""New York Post" as saying that, if Bryant's attorneys could delay a trial, Bryant's chances with a jury would be helped, especially since his team, the L.A. Lakers, is favored to win another NBA title.
There is no indication from Bryant's lawyers that that is, in fact, their strategy they plan to employ, but is there anything to this?

I'm joined by now the criminal defense attorney and former California state prosecutor William Portanova.

Mr. Portanova, thanks very much for joining us.

What do you make of that notion that it would be good to drag this whole process out, from Kobe Bryant's standpoint?

WILLIAM PORTANOVA, FORMER CALIFORNIA PROSECUTOR: Well, I'm not sure that that is really an effective defense strategy.

This is one of those cases where, at some point, both of these people are just going to have to sit in a courtroom and tell their story. And the jury is going to believe it or not believe it. The only reason that there might be a benefit in delaying is if, in fact, the victim in this case has some type of a history, maybe the delay will give the defense team a chance to sort of discover that and draw it out.

BLITZER: Some criminal lawyers, some prosecutors, have suggested that, if the defendant is actually sitting in jail, it is good to get it over with very, very quickly. But if he or she is free on bail, then delay it, drag it out. Maybe attitudes might change and that could be a strategic advantage.

PORTANOVA: Well, and that is sort of a rule of thumb. Defense counsel like to drag things out.

But I can tell you that, given the circumstances of this case, it may very well be that running the case to ground as fast as possible, that could be the better strategy.

BLITZER: October 9, that's when this preliminary hearing is scheduled to take place in Eagle County, Colorado. That's just when the NBA's almost getting ready to start their season. It goes on until the spring. Would it make any difference how Kobe is playing on the basketball court, how he might do in the court of law?

PORTANOVA: Well, anybody who is facing a felony charge has it in the back of their mind 24 hours a day. So it can't help but break a person's concentration, whether they're an NBA player or whether they manufacture aircraft parts. The truth is, it is a drain on their resources. And every day, it is a heavier burden.

BLITZER: Well, I'm talking about the image of potential jurors out there watching him play basketball business as usual while they await the trial. Would it have an impact on their thinking towards involving Kobe Bryant, as opposed to what's going through his mind?

PORTANOVA: Well, it is it probably would have a very, very positive impact for him to sort of do what he does nationally, both with his media contacts and in the arena.

But this is a guy who is already so personally charming and so effective as an advocate for himself in the media, that he's going to do well on the stand, no matter when they do this trial. And, at the end of the day, that's what is going to matter. This is not Mike Tyson. This is a likable guy.

BLITZER: Well, at the end of the day, what is going to really matter, though, is the evidence, the actual physical evidence, in a he-says-vs.-she-says kind of trial.

PORTANOVA: Well, that's exactly right.

It is a he said/she said. And when you have, frankly, a likable defendant, the truth is, they're much more likely to be believed by the jury. It is kind of a sad statement, but it is true that people that -- if they like a person on the stand, they tend to believe them, even if they're lying.

BLITZER: And I think what might also be going in his favor is that, apparently, at least until now, there is no evidence that there was any previous behavior that has been alleged, any kind of sexual assault behavior in his past. And that would seem to benefit him.

PORTANOVA: Well, that's right.

I think that these people -- somebody in his position who had a history of this, it's pretty clear that people would be selling that story or promoting their story right now. And that's not happening.


BLITZER: How much of her past might be allowed to be used -- to be submitted as evidence?

PORTANOVA: It is very unlikely that any of these rumors we've heard recently in the media will make it in front of the jury.

It will probably continue in the media, because there is a public relations campaign being waged. But, in the courtroom, the rights of a sexual assault victim are very, very tightly protected. And if she took too many pills or if she had a bad date with somebody else years earlier, none of that stuff is going to be brought before the jury in any trial.

BLITZER: But while I have you, Mr. Portanova, let me change the subject to the Scott Peterson trial out in California.

The judge ruled today that his attorneys do have the right, and his experts, to go ahead and do their own autopsy on his wife, Laci Peterson, their unborn son, to actually dig up the bodies, if you will. That sounds so gruesome, but is it necessary?

PORTANOVA: It is gruesome and it is necessary.

In California, and probably in all jurisdictions, when the prosecution has experts examine evidence, including a corpse, if the defense wants their own experts to examine that evidence, including a corpse, they have an absolute right to do it. And as gruesome as it is, it is no surprise that they won that motion.

BLITZER: But isn't it going to have a potential for backfiring against Scott Peterson in so angering a lot of people out there that they're digging up his wife's body and the unborn son, that this could cause him some harm in the minds of potential jurors out there?

PORTANOVA: Oh, from a professional standpoint, yes, I think it demonstrates an alarming lack of sensitivity to the growing and ever- present emotional involvement to most of the people in the state of California in this case.

And it is unlikely that anything is going to be discovered, like a bullet in her ribcage or something that is going to somehow provide an alternative defense theory. I think this was, frankly, a bad idea.

BLITZER: Well, so, if you were representing him, if you were defending him, as his criminal defense attorney, you would turn -- even if the judge said, go ahead and do another autopsy, you wouldn't do it?

PORTANOVA: Cause of death isn't even an issue here.

Everybody agrees that this woman is dead, and so is that baby. How she died is something the coroner doesn't know. And I don't know what magic wand the experts might think they have now to try to prove what these remains actually were killed by. It is unlikely that they're going find any evidence of any type that was missed by the coroners. The coroners do a fairly decent job.

BLITZER: One brief final question. If there is even the slightest, slightest chance that their own experts could take a look, do their own autopsy, and find that silver bullet, I guess, as a criminal defense attorney, you would have to go even with that remote chance.

PORTANOVA: Well, some people believe that you take -- you exhaust every chance in a case, especially when the death penalty is on the line. That's all true. But there is a big picture here. And the big picture is already very, very negative towards the defense and the defense team here in California.

It is not -- emotionally there is a strong negative impression of everything that has happened up to this point. And I don't think this did anything to make it any better.

BLITZER: All right, William Portanova, thanks very much for joining us.

PORTANOVA: You're welcome. Thank you.


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