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Basketball Players Could Face High-Profile Trials

Aired July 23, 2003 - 19:46   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Two basketball players, one pro, the other collegiate, are playing defense these days, and it's no game. Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, of course, charged with sexual assault, and former Baylor University player Carlton Dotson charged with murder.
Joining us to discuss these high-profile cases, Court TV anchor Lisa Bloom joins me in New York. Attorney and talk show host Michael Smerconish is in Fort Myers, Florida.

Appreciate both of you joining us.

First of all, let's talk about the Baylor case. Carlton Dotson arrested. How significant?

LISA BLOOM, ANCHOR, COURT TV: Well, the big issue is the confession, and was he mentally ill when he gave the confession? If he did even confess, and that's in some dispute.

There's three points in the justice system where mental illness comes in, at the time of the crime, is he competent to stand trial, if he gets the death penalty, is he competent to be executed?

It doesn't really matter if he's mentally ill when he gave a confession, and that's going to be interesting to see how that plays out.

COOPER: Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and that definitely seems to be playing out big right now. It's what at least his attorney is talking about, police are talking about.

Michael Smerconish, I want to just play what Grady Irvin, Carlton Dotson's attorney, said to me last night. Let's play that right now.


GRADY IRVIN, CARLTON DOTSON'S ATTORNEY: It appears more and more obvious that any statements that were given by Mr. Dotson, if any, couldn't have been freely, couldn't have been voluntary, and couldn't have been done while he was coherent in any way, shape, or form.


COOPER: Do I hear the beginning of a defense here?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, TALK SHOW HOST: Well, you certainly do, but here's the reality. The reality is that Dotson made a telephone call to the police on Thursday. He wanted to talk to them. And in the midst of that discussion, he posed a number of rhetorical questions. By Sunday, he's now at a Super Fresh, and he's acting strangely.

He calls police on 911. They take him to a hospital. And again now, from the hospital, he reaches out for the FBI.

So in both instances, it's Dotson saying, I want to talk to the cops. Not the cops giving him a rubber hose.

COOPER: Let's talk about the Kobe Bryant case a little bit. Lisa, already now, personal information about the alleged victim is -- it's all over the Net. I believe there's some TV talk show host somewhere showing up her picture, using her name. This thing is getting ugly.

BLOOM: Well, I think it's absolutely shameful. You know, rape is the least-reported, least-indicted, least-convicted of all major felonies. And the reason is that people feel ashamed to come forward and report it. Just on a very practical level, we need to protect the privacy of alleged rape victims if we want other people to come forward and report.

Releasing her name, shaming her, releasing dirt on her life, it's only going to be counterproductive in the long run.

COOPER: Michael Smerconish, I mean, is this fair game?

SMERCONISH: It's unfortunate. It's not unexpected. All it takes is one idiot with her high school yearbook and access to the Internet.

But Anderson, listen, we keep saying that Kobe Bryant is presumed innocent. The flip side of that is, she's presumed to be lying. And a lot of this goes with the territory. I don't think that it's fair, but she starts out behind the eight-ball, all ties, he wins, she's got a burden to prove...

BLOOM: She's not presumed to be...

SMERCONISH: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the prosecution.

BLOOM: ... a liar. I mean, that's just incorrect. The presumption of innocence means that the prosecution has to prove the case in court beyond a reasonable doubt. But we know rape victims are no more likely to bring false accusations than other people reporting crimes. It's about 2 percent.

There's no legal requirement anywhere that we assume that she is a liar.

SMERCONISH: As a practical matter, Lisa, that is the case. If you see say he's presumed innocent, and it's a he said-she said, you are saying she's presumed at the outset to be lying. That's the reality. BLOOM: Well, it's not the reality. We're talking about a burden in court versus in the court of public opinion. We can talk about the facts. We have First Amendment rights. And we know that, as a matter of course, most rape accusations are true, just like most criminal accusations are true.

We don't know in this particular case whether it's true or not, but it's absolutely ludicrous to say we have to assume that she's a liar.

COOPER: Michael Smerconish, how significant...


COOPER: ... I mean, how likely do you think some sort of a move for a change of venue is going to be? I mean, we know it has to be in the state of Colorado, this one county, I think it's 0.3 percent African-American. Can he get a fair trial...


COOPER: ... or at least will his defense raise that?

SMERCONISH: This is the failure, the failure of the O.J. criminal case was where that case was tried. I don't believe that this is a similar circumstance. I think that Kobe Bryant will play well with white suburbanites in Colorado. I think they'll ask for a change in venue. They may or may not get it.

I think the man can get a fair trial in that county.

BLOOM: Well, the question is, can the victim get a fair trial up against a major celebrity, where we're talking about the presumption of innocence? It's really a super-presumption of innocence for celebrities. America loves our celebrities. We give them every benefit of the doubt.

Many people say he couldn't possibly have done it simply because he's a celebrity, really confusing celebrity and character. And that's what this young 19-year-old nobody is up against.

COOPER: All right, we're going to have to leave it there. Michael Smerconish...

SMERCONISH: I think it cuts both ways.

COOPER: All right. Michael Smerconish, thanks very much. Lisa as well...


COOPER: ... thanks very...

BLOOM: Thank you, Anderson.


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