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Defense to Focus on Accuser in Kobe Bryant Case?

Aired July 21, 2003 - 20:05   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The focus in the Kobe Bryant sexual abuse case may be shifting towards his anonymous accuser. What might it be like for someone who says they are a victim to have their motivations for coming forward challenged, their lives scrutinized?
Well, a few years ago, Alison Jennings accused four Oklahoma State football players of raping her. Civil suits against two of the players, both of whom are now in the NFL, have been settled. She says the hardest lesson was learning how quickly an accuser can be vilified.

Ms. Jennings join us from Oklahoma City.

Good evening. Thanks for sharing your story with us this evening.


ZAHN: So, Alison, what is the price you had to pay for going public with your story?

JENNINGS: Well, it really disrupted my life. And everything that I did in my daily life revolved around this case.

ZAHN: And I know, at one point, things got so bleak for you that it was impossible for you even to go into a grocery store without being attacked verbally.

JENNINGS: Well, absolutely. And it is a constant fear of people knowing who I am and ridiculing me, because they don't know my side of the story.

ZAHN: And what is it they said to you? What is it that you don't think they understood?

JENNINGS: Well, I don't think they understood that what the players were saying on TV is not what I believe and what I know happened to me. And people would call me names and say things about me that just weren't true.

ZAHN: When you decided to go down this path, with the support of your parents, which I understand you really needed to rely upon, did you have any understanding of how much pain you would be subjecting yourself to?

JENNINGS: No, not at all. I mean, I understood that it would be hard, but I did not know the magnitude that it would be. ZAHN: And was there any point in the process where you just say, I wish I hadn't gone through with this?

JENNINGS: Sometimes. I think everybody goes through that, but it is in my heart to keep going and to do something about this. And that's what keeps me going, the support of my family and also realizing that going through this is making me a stronger person.

ZAHN: And, as you watch the sidelines, as this teenaged accuser goes through the beginning part of this process, where she's being advised to hire a high-priced attorney because of the character assassination that has already begun, what is it that has gone through your mind?

JENNINGS: Well, I just -- I feel for her. And my heart goes out to her, because I know how hard it is. Mine wasn't on a national scale, like hers is. But my -- the magnitude is the same and the emotions are the same. And I just know how hard it is going to be for her right now.

ZAHN: And I guess, to put this all into perspective, even though not all of these stories are analogous, there is a stunning report just out from the Department of Justice that suggests that only 3 percent of women who are raped in this country actually end up reporting the crime. And you understand why that is. And, if you could, with a final thought, just to put that into perspective for us this evening, why that is the case.

JENNINGS: Oh, absolutely.

Because it is extremely disruptive of your life. And it wears you down emotionally, physically, mentally, financially. And it is very hard to get through. But it is getting through it that is going to make a change.

ZAHN: Well, we appreciate your dropping by. I know this isn't easy for you to relive much of what you have been through over the last couple years. Again, good of you to drop by, Alison Jennings. Good luck to you.

JENNINGS: Thank you. Thank you.

ZAHN: Of course, Kobe Bryant is certainly not the first star athlete to face criminal charges. How have others weathered similar scandals?

Here on the set, we have ESPN's Jeremy Schaap. I'm also joined by attorney Darrow Soll in Phoenix. He represented many athletes, including Mike Tyson nine times. We're also hoping to be joined by WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes to join us with an athlete's perspective.

Let's start with you tonight, Jeremy.

You have seen what Mr. Bryant's team has done so far, the mea culpa coming in a very public setting. Do you think the public buys it? JEREMY SCHAAP, ESPN: I don't know what the public buys at this point.

I think, clearly, the public wants to believe Kobe Bryant. Certainly, if you believe Kobe Bryant, something less horrible, you never want to imagine that a woman was violated in the way that she is saying that she was violated. Kobe Bryant has been a superstar almost since the day he emerged from high school in 1996. He's someone who is generally beloved. He's an athlete of remarkable skill. I don't know what people think at this point. People who are close to Kobe Bryant say they can't imagine he did anything like this, but no one knows what happened in that room.

ZAHN: Sheryl, you have known Kobe Bryant for years. I think you're with us now, aren't you? Can you hear me?

SHERYL SWOOPES, WNBA PLAYER: Yes, I am. I can hear you.

ZAHN: OK, good. Welcome. OK. You joined the conversation late. I just wanted to make sure you could hear us. Thanks for joining us tonight.

SWOOPES: Thank you.

ZAHN: It would appear as though Kobe Bryant has been very careful in how he has handled his life up until now. You have a very good understanding of what these young men are up against on the road. And if you could help us better understand why Kobe Bryant, with so much at stake, would put himself in this position, tell us tonight.

SWOOPES: Well, first of all, I think it is very unfortunate what Kobe is going through right now, as well as the victim. I feel for her family. I feel for his family.

I think Kobe worked really hard to establish himself and to have the good-guy, the good-boy image that he has. And I think he worked extremely hard for that. So, for him to even allow himself to be in a situation where anybody could possibly accuse him of anything, whether it happened or not, I think it is very unfortunate. And just being a professional athlete, fortunately enough for me, being in the WNBA, we don't really have to deal with certain issues and certain situations like that.

But I just think it is unfortunate that him being who he is and being in the NBA and people knowing who he is, I think people are always going try to take advantage of you. So I think he should have been smarter and not really allowed himself to be in that situation.

ZAHN: Darrow, you were actually successful in defending your client in a number of different cases. But in two sexual assault cases, the charges ended up being dropped. What do you think is the key to defending Kobe Bryant here?

DARROW SOLL, ATTORNEY: Well, I think it is to have a game plan. I can't talk about any specific case I've done. But I can tell you, I approach it in a game plan. I have an investigative phase, what I call a factual phase, once the investigation has resulted in information, and then a legal phase. How am I going to use that information? And I assemble a team. And, typically, we then try and develop a strategy perhaps for trial, in some instances, just for preparation and presentation before a prosecutor.

ZAHN: Well, let's talk about that, Jeremy.

A lot of people watching this from the sidelines see the resources Kobe Bryant has. And they know that his team will be taking on a brand new prosecutor, basically. Is it an equal playing field here?

SCHAAP: Well, I'm certainly not a legal expert. And I don't know much about the inner workings of the Eagle County prosecutor's office.

Certainly, he has tremendous resources at his disposal. But you can't object to that. Generally, from what I understand -- and I have covered quite a few of these incidents involving athletes over the years -- generally speaking, prosecutors, the state, has quite a bit at its disposal as well. So the benefit of a competent defense is certainly something he deserves. And it seems that he's made a good decision, hiring Pamela Mackey.

It is almost always a good decision hiring a female attorney to represent you in a sexual assault case like this. She's had success before in these kinds of cases. She's represented high-profile athletes in the past. So that is a very good decision, because Mike Tyson, before he hired Darrow out there in California, hired Vince Fuller to represent him in the Desiree Washington case. Of course, he went to jail.

He may -- he was convicted by a jury of his peers. But there are many who think that Vince Fuller ran an incompetent defense.

ZAHN: Darrow, just a final thought about any chance you think this prosecution team will have against this big-bucks team that Kobe Bryant has put together.

SOLL: I've got to tell you, I think it is a myth that, because it is someone who has a lot of money, that, suddenly, they bring the superstar team to the table.

When I tried my first high-profile celebrity case and started getting involved in those kinds of cases, I had just come out of the public defender's office. I was born and raised in the public defender's office. And that's where I learned my work ethic and how to do what I do. And I applied the same type of skills to indigents as I did to my first superstar client.

And I got to tell you, the prosecution has unbelievable resources. They will rally around this case. And they will support this young man. He is 34. By the time I was 34, I had tried a number of cases. He's not the babe in the woods. And he has shown remarkable political experience. And he has shown that he can do a tough job. I think the defense is going have a tough road to hoe. I think they've got to do their investigative work. I think they have got to keep their mouth shut, their heads down, and allow the local press to go after the victim. And it is unfortunate to say. I shouldn't even say that, to go after the victim. But the defense should not be looking at the victim at all. They should just be receiving the information and preparing for trial.

I think it is a very big mistake if, suddenly, you see the defense saying anything about the victim. And Ms. Mackey is an incredibly talented lawyer. And I believe she'll did a good job. And I believe the prosecutor has shown all signs of doing a good job.

ZAHN: Well, Sheryl, it certainly hasn't taken much time for the mud to be slung at the accuser. And I know, as close as you are to Kobe Bryant, you also have some empathy for this accuser. A final thought on that tonight?

SWOOPES: Well, Paula, I think, as I said earlier, there is always, people say, two sides to every story. I think there are three sides. There's his side, her side and then there's the truth.

From what I know of Kobe, when I first heard about it, I was honestly very surprised and very shocked. He's always been a great guy to me, a wonderful person on the court, off the court. So I don't think we should say, yes, he's guilty until all the facts have been put out there and everybody knows what is going on. And, at the same time, to just say, well, she's not telling the truth, she's lying, she just wants the notoriety, she wants people to know who she is, I think that's very unfair to her also. I think we've just got to let the judicial process take its course and see what happens.

ZAHN: Sheryl Swoopes, Darrow Soll, and Jeremy Schaap, thank you, all of you, for joining us tonight. Appreciate it.


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