— Kobe Bryant made his first court appearance in his sexual assault case today, as ABCNEWS was told that examiners found evidence the NBA superstar's accuser had "vaginal tearing."
Bryant, 24, is accused of sexual assault for allegedly raping a 19-year-old woman who worked at an exclusive resort where he stayed while he was in Colorado for knee surgery in late June. The Los Angeles Lakers guard, who is married and has an infant daughter, has admitted committing adultery with the woman but insists the sex was consensual.
Today, Bryant, dressed in a beige suit, was greeted by a few cheers as he entered the front of the Eagle County Courthouse for the procedural hearing Judge Frederick Gannett ordered him to attend. Bryant's wife, Vanessa, was not with him.
Pamela Mackey, Bryant's attorney, waived the formal advisement of the sexual assault charge he faces. Bryant sat quietly with his hands folded during the hearing, which lasted approximately seven minutes. He was not required to — and did not — enter a plea.
Gannett scheduled a preliminary hearing for Oct. 9. Asked whether he objected to the scheduling of the hearing, Bryant said, "No, sir."
The judge also appointed a special investigator to look into leaks to the media about the case. Gannett had imposed a gag order that prevents investigators and attorneys on both sides from talking to the media, but said today that he was concerned about some recent reports and the massive attention the case had generated.
In a meeting before today's hearing, Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert suggested to Gannett that an independent special investigator be appointed to look into the source of the leaks. Bryant's attorneys agreed. The judge appointed an investigator outside Eagle County, Pitkin County County Sheriff Bob Braudis, to conduct the probe.
Bryant was cheered again as he and his lawyer left the courthouse and entered his waiting sport utility vehicle.
Sources: Woman Says She Tried to Leave Room
Bryant's appearance today came as ABCNEWS was told examiners found evidence that the alleged victim had vaginal tearing. Prosecutors could argue that this is not consistent with consensual sex, legal analysts say. But the defense could rebut this in several ways, including that vaginal tearing could be sustained during consensual sex, or was not incurred during sex with Bryant.
Several sources familiar with the case also told ABCNEWS the accuser has alleged that she tried to leave Bryant's hotel room and he blocked the door. The sources said that the sheriff's original arrest warrant included a misdemeanor claim of false imprisonment.
The prosecutor did not ultimately include a false imprisonment claim in the charging document. One reason may be that prosecutors prefer not to give the jury the option of finding guilt on a lesser offense as a way of compromising.
That does not mean that prosecutors cannot include the allegation at trial.
Despite the cheers outside the courthouse, Bryant's public relations struggle will continue after the hearing, as he faces the question of how to appear innocent without appearing callous or unconcerned, or worse — guilty.
"It's kind of a Catch-22," defense attorney Chris Pixley told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "After today's hearing, if Kobe Bryant is holed up by his defense team, then the suggestion is made by the media that he's hiding behind his attorneys or that worse, he may be showing signs of guilt or that he's guilt-ridden.
"The flip side is when he's out in the media or out in public as he has been recently, there are a lot of attacks made against him for maybe being cavalier about the charges against him," Pixley said. "It's a lose-lose. At the end of the day, you can't tell your client they can't go about their life. This is someone who is a celebrity. He's going to be followed whenever he's out."
He Said, She Said
Bryant met the alleged victim on June 30, when he stayed at Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in Edwards. He flew back to Colorado to turn himself in to authorities for his arrest on July 4 and was freed after posting $25,000 bond.
The woman was allegedly attacked after she gave Bryant a tour of the facility's hotel and spa, sources have told ABCNEWS. The tour ended at Bryant's room, sources say, where he allegedly invited her to come inside and she accepted. According to the sources, there was some consensual contact between Bryant and his accuser, but the woman says she did not consent to intercourse.
Under Colorado law, a rape can still occur if the victim consents to some sexual activity, but later withdraws her consent or refuses to give consent to other sexual activity, including intercourse. Bryant faces probation to life in prison if convicted on the single felony count.
Some courtroom observers have said they do not expect a plea bargain in the case. If Bryant pleaded guilty to a lesser count, he would have to register as a convicted sex offender.
"From the prosecution point of view, you don't really plead those cases down or plead them anyway," Court TV reporter Vinnie Politan told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America on Tuesday. "From the defendant's point of view, any sort of admission to doing anything wrong here is just suicide for him."
Weary of — But Cashing In on — the Media Glare
Authorities at the Eagle County Courthouse had been preparing for days for the media onslaught accompanying Bryant's first court appearance.
Prosecutors received threats after Bryant was charged, prompting court officials to post sheriff's deputies around the courthouse today. Seats in the small courtroom had to be assigned to certain members of the press and a tent was set up outside the courthouse to accommodate the overflow of reporters.
Residents of Eagle seem to have grown weary of the media focus on their small town. But that hasn't stopped them from trying to cash in the spotlight.
Hundreds of reporters and dozens of satellite trucks were in town for today's hearing. Hotels and restaurants were fully booked. Several signs advertising temporary office space were posted, and children were seen selling cold drinks and snacks around town. A sign posted outside a local pharmacy said, "Nothing to Say, Lots to Sell."
ABCNEWS' Bill Redeker in Eagle, Colo., contributed to this report.