B U E N A V I S T A, Colo., Aug. 28, 2003 -- As Kobe Bryant's defense team prepares for an Oct. 9 preliminary hearing, the case of a young man serving a minimum of 16 years in prison in another acquaintance rape case illustrates the kind of future he could face if convicted under Colorado law.
He was a 19-year-old scholarship student at the University of Denver when the incident occurred. He has since been convicted and sent to prison to serve a minimum sentence of 16 years.
His friend, he said, invited him up to her dormitory room to share drinks and marijuana. They later had intercourse.
Three years later, the young man — whose name we are withholding at his request and to protect the victim's privacy — is now 22 and a convicted rapist, serving his sentence at the state prison in Buena Vista.
The woman accused him of raping her. He said it was consensual; she said it was forced.
The case, which relied heavily on testimony, could illustrate a difficult road ahead for Bryant, who is charged with sexual assault for allegedly raping a 19-year-old woman who worked in a Colorado hotel where he was staying. Bryant says he had sex with the woman, but insists it was consensual.
In an exclusive prison room interview, the young man convicted of rape maintains he is innocent. "We were engaged in sexual intercourse, that's all," he said.
When asked if he raped her, he said no, he didn't.
When asked if she, at any point, told him to stop, he said, "No." He claims there was no substantial physical evidence in his case.
Victim’s Testimony Convinced Jurors
In fact, the prosecutor of the case says there was physical evidence.
As in the Bryant case, vaginal tearing was part of the evidence submitted in the young man's trial. But, according to the prosecutor, the physical evidence proved to be less critical in his conviction.
Karen Steinhauser, who prosecuted the case, says jurors she interviewed after the trial said it was the victim's testimony that was most convincing.
"The victim in this case was on the witness stand for hours and her story never varied," Steinhauser told ABCNEWS.
An "outcry" witness — another student approached by the victim in the dormitory soon after the incident — also proved compelling. "She was hysterical, shaking, trembling, afraid," said Steinhauser. "She couldn't even speak, is what this person testified to."
Former prosecutor Nathan Chambers says outcry witnesses can be critical. "They'd testify first of all to what the person told them and secondly they'd testify to the person's demeanor; how they were behaving, were they upset, and distraught," he said.
Are the Penalties Appropriate?
For the convicted rapist, the future is not very bright. He has appealed his conviction twice and both times was rejected. He has a third and final chance, but he understands the odds are not great.
When asked how he copes, he answered, "One day at a time, one day at a time.
"The penalties in this state are just too strict," he said. "They're just too harsh."
Denver defense lawyer Harvey Steinberg agrees. "I believe it's unbelievably punitive," he said. "It's based on assumptions that if you make a mistake once in your life, you need to be labeled a sex offender."
Even if released, sex offenders can face a lifetime of strictly controlled parole. Psychological examinations, lie detectors, and other monitoring devices are used to determine whether offenders are still a threat to society. Most parolees are registered as sex offenders.
Steinhauser says that's appropriate because she says research shows most offenders repeat their crimes.
"What this law does, it says you're staying in prison until the parole board decides you are no longer a danger to society, which may be never," she said.
The convicted rapist who sits in his cell at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex said he has no previous record, which he feels should be taken into consideration.
"My record was absolutely clean," he said. "I had no felony convictions. Maybe a couple of traffic tickets but there was nothing in my past that even indicated I'm a threat to society."
What about the victim?
She declined an interview request. Friends told ABCNEWS she is still traumatized by the incident.
"To me it's sad that a 19-year-old went to prison for 16 years to life, but it is also sad that a young woman's life has been totally messed up," said Steinhauser. "They both have lost. Absolutely."