Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser’s Story, and the Half-Confession
The NBA legend has received a hero’s sendoff during his final season. But there’s one incident that will always taint Bryant’s career.
On April 13, Kobe Bean Bryant will don his Lakers jersey for the last time. And during this, his 20th and final NBA season, Bryant has received an extended valediction fit for a king, replete with a plethora of celebrations, movie star-commercials, and unanimous praise from basketball stars past and present. His professional résumé is, of course, indisputable. Bryant is an 18-time All-Star, 12-time member of the All-Defensive team, and 5-time NBA champion. He will go down as the second-best shooting guard in NBA history—behind His Airness—and one of the Top 20 players to ever set foot on the hardwood. But when taking into account the entire breadth of Bryant’s tenure in the spotlight, the personal and professional, there will always be one giant question mark, one disturbing episode that gives even the most ardent admirers of the Black Mamba considerable pause: the rape case.
The Kobe Bryant rape case has, in the annals of popular culture, been reduced to something of a punchline due to the aftermath—namely, Bryant’s $4 million, 8-carat purple diamond apology ring that he gifted to his wife, Vanessa. But what exactly transpired on the night of June 30, 2003, at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, in Colorado, may always be a mystery. Despite being charged with sexual assault and false imprisonment—facing life in prison—and tearfully confessing to committing adultery with his 19-year-old accuser, Bryant’s case never made it to trial. On Sept. 1, 2004, one week before opening statements were to be made, the case was dismissed after the accuser, who had been dragged through the mud for months by the media and Bryant’s defense team, informed the court that she would not testify. The woman had filed a separate civil suit against Bryant, and had agreed to dismissal of the sexual assault charge against him provided the athlete issue the following apology to his accuser, which was read in court by Bryant’s attorney:
First, I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year. Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure. I also want to apologize to her parents and family members, and to my family and friends and supporters, and to the citizens of Eagle, Colo.I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman. No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case. Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.I issue this statement today fully aware that while one part of this case ends today, another remains. I understand that the civil case against me will go forward. That part of this case will be decided by and between the parties directly involved in the incident and will no longer be a financial or emotional drain on the citizens of the state of Colorado.
The accuser’s civil suit against Bryant was ultimately settled in March 2005, and terms of the settlement were undisclosed (the total amount civil juries in Colorado could award at the time was $2.5 million). And the accuser, it should be noted, came from a wealthy family.
The Daily Beast has reviewed the legal and court documents of the Kobe Bryant rape case, including testimony from the accuser, then 19, and Bryant, then 27, which shed some light on what may have happened that night.
“Last night I was at work and I was sexually assaulted.” So begins the accuser’s version of the events that took place the night of June 30, 2003, according to the police transcript of an interview taken with her the following day by Detective Winters and Deputy Rich of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office in Eagle, Colorado.
The accuser, who is white, said she arrived late to work at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, a resort in Edwards, Colorado—between Eagle and Vail—at around 2 p.m. on June 30. At around 4 p.m., she said she received a call from a travel agent checking in on a reservation for “Javier Rodriguez,” and the agent “divulged the information to me that it was actually Mr. Bryant. And that it was very important that we got him and his two companions a room. So, there were three rooms all together.” The other rooms were being held under the names “Joe Carlson” and “Mike Ortiz,” who were in Bryant’s entourage. The accuser, who worked at the front desk, was scheduled to be off at 7 p.m., but told officers she stayed later because “I was excited to meet Kobe Bryant,” and that she “was trying to make up the extra hours” that she missed by not getting to work on time (her work day was supposed to begin at 11 a.m.).“They showed up around 9:45, 10:00. I met Mr. Ortiz um, met Mr. Bryant and they asked me to escort him to his room,” she told police. When they got to the room, she says, Bryant made a request: “Mr. Bryant asked me, kinda in private if I would come back in 15 minutes and give him a tour of the hotel. And I said that I would.”
The accuser says she returned to his room around 10:30 p.m., and then showed Bryant the resort’s on-site facilities, including the spa, exercise, room, outdoor pool, and outdoor Jacuzzi. She claims the tour portion was witnessed by Bob Pietrack, the bellman and a high school friend of the accuser. Then, the two allegedly returned to Bryant’s room, sat down, and talked.
“We were talking and [Bryant] asked me to open the Jacuzzi for him,” she told police. “I told him that my shift was over and I was gonna go home. He proceeded to try and convince me to come back in fifteen minutes, which I told him I would just so I could get out of there and then I was just gonna leave and not come back. Um, I stood up to leave, he stood up, asked me to give him a hug. I gave him a hug and he started kissing me and I let him kiss me. And the kissing continued then he took off his pants. And that’s when I tried to back up and leave. And that’s when he started to choke me.”
Asked by police what she was thinking at the time, she responded, “I was thinking that his actions were getting physical, and that I wanted to get out of the room.” She estimates the kissing lasted for five minutes, and that that part was consensual. What happened after, she says, was not. “He started, um, groping me, I guess I’d say,” she told officers. “Putting his hands on me, grabbing my butt, my chest. Trying to lift up my skirt. Proceeded to take off his own pants. Trying to grab my hand and make me touch him.” “I told him once that I needed to leave,” she added. “He didn’t say anything. If he did [hear me] he didn’t make any gestures or anything that would let me know that he did.”
At this point, the accuser told police that Bryant began to get rough with her: “When he took off his pants that’s when I started to kinda back up, and try to push his hands off me and that’s when he started to choke me. He wasn’t choking me enough that I couldn’t breathe, just choking me to the point that I was scared.”
Bryant then, she told police, began “grabbing and rubbing” her vagina over her panties. That lasted “two to three minutes, and during that time I was trying to uh, pull away.” Then, she says, he grabbed her neck with both arms. She claims that she didn’t say anything to him at this time, but he knew she was trying to leave “because I kept trying to back away and move towards the door.”
According to the accuser, Bryant put his body between her and the door. “I try and walk to the side, and he would walk to the side with me. And that’s when he started to put his hands on my neck,” she said, adding, “He was groping me, I tried to leave, tried to break away, that’s when he grabbed my neck. And at that point I was just looking at him, didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what to say.”
“Then he held me by my neck and physically forced me over to the side of the couch,” she continued. “That’s when he continually had one hand around my neck and with his other hand pushed me over to the side of the two chairs um, turned me around and bent me over and lifted up my skirt.” She told police that “at that point I was just kinda scared and I said no a few times,” adding she said no “when he lifted up my skirt” and again “when he took off my underwear.”
When asked by police how she knew Bryant had heard her, she replied, “Because every time I said no he tightened his hold around me.”
The accuser said that, with one arm still around her neck, Bryant “would lean his face real close to me and ask me questions.” The question: “You’re not gonna tell anybody right.” “I said no. And he didn’t hear me or asked me to say it louder. Wanted me to turn around and look at him while I said it,” she told police. She said that Bryant asked her the question “three or four” times, and her response every time was “no” because “I was scared that if I told him yes, I’m gonna tell somebody, I’m gonna get out of here now, that he would become more physical with me. Or try harder to keep me in there.” “And then,” she said, “he lifted up my skirt, took off my underwear and, and came inside me.” She continued: “That’s when he kept coming inside me and then he leaned his face toward mine and asked me if I liked it when a guy came on my face, I said no. Then he was like what did you say. Grabbed and like tightened his hold on my neck, I said no. He said he was gonna do it anyway. And then at that point I got a little bit more aggressive with him and tried to release his hands from my neck. And he was still behind me and at that point he’s still choking me, I was not trying as hard as I could of to get away, but I was still trying.”
The penetration, she told police, lasted about “five minutes,” during which time she was crying, saying that the crying began, “When he was coming inside, or started having sex with me.” During the sex, Bryant reportedly said, “I like Vail, Colorado.”
“When I started to get a little bit more aggressive, tried harder to get away, that’s when he stopped,” she said. “I stood up and turned around and he forced me to stay in the room until I had calmed down a little bit. Made me fix my hair and wash my face.”
Afterwards, she told officers that Bryant issued her a warning. “[This] is just between the two, the two of us nobody is gonna know about this, you’re not going to tell anybody. Not asking me just telling me.”
Bryant’s version of the events differed from the accuser’s. He was questioned by police at around 11:30 p.m. the day after the alleged sexual assault at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera.
“Um, she showed me around the pool, showing me around, um, we went to my room, she showed me the back view where the bears come up to the window, and that’s about fucking it, we shot the shit and that was it,” Bryant told police. He then denied three times that anything had happened with the woman to police, and when informed that the accuser had made an allegation of sexual assault against him, told the officers, “Is there any way I can settle this whatever it is, I mean…?” asked Bryant. “If my wife, if my wife found out that anybody made any type of allegations against me she would be infuriated.”
When police informed him that the accuser had submitted to a physical exam and they’d taken semen and blood evidence from her person, Bryant admitted that the two had sex. “Uh, this is what I need to know because uh, I did have sexual intercourse with her,” said Bryant, adding, “It was totally consensual.”
Bryant told the officers that when he and the accuser got back to the room, she showed him her back tattoo and then kissed him, and they began to kiss. When the officers asked Bryant whether she said no or resisted, Bryant replied, “Okay. I’m thinking, I’m thinking, I’m thinking. (Pause.) I’m trying to think of the conversation we had.”
He admitted that he “held [the accuser] from the back” and that the sex lasted “about five minutes.”
The officers then asked Bryant, “Did you ever ask her if you wanted, if you could cum in her face?” “Yes,” Bryant replied, adding, “That’s when she said no. That’s when she said no. That’s when she said no.”
Bryant contended that the woman gave him oral sex for approximately “five seconds” prior to the sex, and that everything was “consensual.”
At one point, when police described the accuser as “attractive,” Bryant corrected them. “She wasn’t that attractive,” said Bryant. Then, when officers asked him about “finishing,” he replied, “I didn’t finish a fucking thing,” adding, “I jerked off when she left.” When asked by officers if he’d ever cheated on his wife before, Bryant replied, “Um, yes, with one other person. And she could actually testify I do that um, I do the same thing, I hold her from the back, I put my hands (inaudible).” “Her name is Michelle,” continued Bryant, adding she’s a “frequent” partner of his.
Police then inform Bryant that the accuser “has a bruise on her neck,” to which he replied, “Yeah I mean that’s you know me and Michelle, that’s what we, we do the same thing,” said Bryant. When officers ask Bryant how often he has sex with “Michelle,” he replies, “A lot. She’ll tell you the same shit.”
In a supplemental police report, Detective Winters described a strange encounter with Bryant in which he hurled a T-shirt containing semen into the officer’s face. The accuser’s name is redacted.
“During our conversation with Bryant, we asked him since he didn’t ejaculate in [redacted] if he ejaculated later. Bryant stated he did,” read Det. Winters’ report. “We asked Bryant where did he ejaculate. He stated he ejaculated onto a white t-shirt after [redacted] left. We asked Bryant if we could have that t-shirt. He agreed. I remember Detective Loya following Bryant into Bryant’s room and I followed them. I did not see where Bryant got the t-shirt from. However, Bryant stated that the t-shirt he was holding was the t-shirt he ejaculated into. He then threw the t-shirt at me. I told Bryant not to throw it at me because I would come pick it up in a safe location. I caught the t-shirt around the neck region. Bryant told me he didn’t ‘shoot it’ that far up. Meaning he didn’t ejaculate that far up the t-shirt.”
And in another supplemental report in Bryant’s case file, he chose to invoke Shaquille O’Neal’s name during the investigation—for reasons unclear.
According to the police report, while he was being questioned by the officers about the alleged sexual assault, Bryant said, “I should have done what Shaq does,” adding, “Shaq gives them money or buys them cars, he has already spent one million dollars.” The report added, “Kobe stated that Shaq does this to keep the girls quiet.”
On July 12, Bryant issued his first statement about the case to the Los Angeles Times, saying, “When everything comes clean, it will all be fine, you’ll see. But you guys know me, I shouldn’t have to say anything. You know I would never do something like that.” Four days later, he made his first public appearance since the allegations emerged, walking the red carpet with his wife Vanessa at the ESPY Awards at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre. And on July 18, after he was formally charged with sexual assault and false imprisonment, Bryant held a news conference where, with his wife by his side, he contested the charges against him.
“I didn’t force her to do anything against her will. I’m innocent,” he said. “I sit here in front of you guys furious at myself, disgusted at myself for making a mistake of adultery.”
During the preliminary hearing, Detective Winters testified that the accuser had been examined the day after the alleged assault by Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) at the Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
“[The nurse] stated that there were several lacerations to the victim’s posterior fourchette or vaginal area, and two of those lacerations were approximately one centimeter in length,” testified Det. Winters. “And there were many, I believe, 2 millimeter lacerations. Too many to count… [The nurse] stated that the injuries were consistent with penetrating genital trauma. That it’s not consistent with consensual sex.”
Detective Winters further stated that the nurse told him the vaginal injuries had most likely occurred within “24 hours,” and that the accuser had “a small bruise on her left jaw line.” Also, that examiners had found “blood excretions” on Bryant’s T-shirt “to about the waistline.” The blood, testified Det. Winters, had “the same DNA profile as the victim in this case.”
Bryant’s defense team, on the other hand, brought up the accuser’s past sexual history. The accuser stated that she’d had consensual sex on June 27 or 28, and when the panties she wore to her medical exam the following day were tested, they found semen and a hair follicle that did not belong to Bryant. These were, for clarification purposes, a separate pair of panties she put on and wore to her exam—not the panties from the night in question, which were collected and tested separately—and the accuser claimed she’d accidentally put on a pair of dirty panties for the exam. Bryant’s defense team claimed that the vaginal trauma suffered by the accuser could have been from having “multiple partners” in a short time span, though Det. Winters had testified that a nurse told him the injuries had likely occurred in the past 24 hours.
Furthermore, Bryant’s defense team focused on how the accuser admitted she was “excited” to meet Bryant—allegedly requesting an autograph of him prior to the alleged sexual assault—and called the accuser’s mental state into question. Authorities claimed that Bryant’s accuser had been hospitalized four months prior to the alleged sexual assault, and when campus police arrived to her dormitory at the University of Northern Colorado, they determined she was “a danger to herself.” A former friend of the accuser’s, who said she’d lived with the woman before they had a falling out, told authorities that the accuser had tried to commit suicide twice before the alleged sexual assault by attempting to overdose on sleeping pills, reported the Associated Press.
We may never know what happened in that hotel room between Kobe Bryant and his accuser. But we do know that in the wake of the rape case, after losing endorsement campaigns with McDonald’s and Nutella, and being benched by Nike, Bryant resumed his status as lucrative pitchman in July 2005, when Nike began using photos of the athlete for the first time since the assault allegation.
Of the decision to bring Bryant back into the fold, Nike spokesman Rodney Knox told USA Today, “Nike agrees with most NBA observers that Kobe ranks among the very best players in the NBA.”