Craig's Court: You Are Free To Go

Feb. 4, 2004

The motion to suppress started off as if it was going to be one great legal showdown and then it lost its steam. First, we heard from the lead detective Doug Winters and Chief Deputy District Attorney Greg Crittendon, only this time they were both much better prepared than they had been at the preliminary hearing.

We learned lots of new details in the open portion of the proceedings. First of all, it was a County Court judge who had to tell the inexperienced Winters how to apply for both a Rule 41.1 (non-testimonial identification evidence) warrant and a search warrant for the clothes worn by Kobe Bryant during the alleged sexual assault. Somebody should have thought to get a search warrant for Room 35 at Cordillera as well.

Even after Winters got the warrants faxed, signed and faxed back by County Court Judge Granger, neither Detective Winters nor his partner Detective Dan Loya knew that Rule 41.1 warrants cannot be executed other than during daylight hours. Blissfully unaware, they drove up the hill to Cordillera after first dispatching three undercover cops to keep an eye on Bryant.

While the cops were getting their plan together in the parking lot, Kobe and his two bodyguards and his trainer apparently figured out that something strange was going on. It was nearly 1 a.m. on July 2, 2003 and Bryant was on crutches approaching the unmarked purple police van. Side-by-side with Kobe Bryant in that parking lot was a bodyguard named Troy Laster.

Laster, who could become a critical witness in this case, is described as a 5 foot 10 inch, stocky African-American cop from L.A. moonlighting as a Bryant employee. The way the Eagle cops tell it, Kobe approached by asking, "What's up fellas?"

The undercover cops all describe the unexpected Bryant visit as "chaotic" and "confusing" as they put away their bulletproof vests and slinked back into the background forming a safety perimeter for Winters and Loya to do their work.

The two lead detectives then introduced themselves and told Bryant they were investigating a criminal allegation and wanted to speak with him. Kobe told them that was fine. The cops claim that Loya then said to Bryant these legally significant words, "You are not under arrest. You are free to go." They then asked Bryant to get rid of Laster cause they wanted to talk alone. According to the cops, Bryant told Laster, "I am all right with these guys" and Laster left.

Shortly after the conversation began, Detective Loya clicked on a little Sony dictating recorder he had in his front shirt pocket. The taping did not begin until after Loya made the alleged "free to go" statement to Bryant. Those of us in the press and public will not be able to hear the rest of the tape until and unless Judge Ruckreigle rules against the defense motion to suppress the statements and finds the conversation otherwise admissible.

What we do know is that Winters and Loya maintain that they never had a harsh word with Kobe Bryant during the rest of their long encounter in the wee hours of the morning. Their aim was cooperation and consent from Kobe Bryant and they claim they got it.

According to these two detectives, Kobe Bryant let them voluntarily into his Room 35. He brought them the clothes he was wearing during his adultery, he voluntarily accompanied them to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs to have 25 of his pubic and head hair plucked and his private parts examined. After the hospital exam, the cops say Kobe Bryant shook their hands and told them to do the best investigation of their lives.

It is an intersting irony in this case that the prosecution is claiming CONSENT to justify their actions that early morning. Kobe Bryant never said "No." That is precisely the ultimate issue in the trial where Team Kobe is claiming the young lady never said "No" and the defense is CONSENT.

The other bombshell was the claim that LA cop Troy Laster talked to the undercover cops and told one of them the following, "If this is what I think it is, I don't want to be involved anyway." What the hell does that mean?

Did this LA cop know something about what happened in Room 35 on June 30? Was he aware of some Kobe Bryant modus operandi? Was loyalty to the law greater than his loyalty to his employer? Was he simply reacting to the sin of adultery? A lot of bad implications can be drawn from that statement if true. It is a big if.

Pam Mackey claimed in her questioning that Laster totally denies making that statement. The undercover cop to whom it was allegedly said did not write it down until the end of July.

For most of the day, I was anticipating an appearance sometime of Troy Laster to refute in person the testimony of the Eagle detectives. But at the end of the day, Bryant attorney Hal Haddon told the court that he did not have any intention of putting Laster on the stand. If Laster doesn't testify, then Team Kobe is really waving the white flag. It is very unlikely the defense can prevail on the motion to suppress statements.

Even though the Eagle detectives were inexperienced and unknowledgeable about Colorado law, it appears they did enough things right to pass constitutional muster. It was not textbook, but probably good enough for government work.

Sometimes, as a defense attorney, you file motions really expecting to win. Other times, you file motions in order to get an evidentiary hearing where you get to question prosecution witnesses under oath. This motion to suppress is looking like the latter.

Team Kobe will tell the jury at trial that after a little evasiveness at the start, Kobe Bryant was 100 percent cooperative with the investigators. They will argue that his actions and statements are those of an innocent man. We already know that there is no smoking gun on that audiotape. County Court Judge Gannet learned what Kobe Bryant told the Eagle cops and he barely found probable cause.

The case moves on. Next hearing is March 1. It was another interesting few days in Eagle. I am now free to go.

Craig Silverman is a legal analyst for 7NEWS. He will be contributing his thoughts on the Kobe Bryant case in the months to come. He works for the downtown Denver law firm of Silverman and Olivas, P.C., which you can contact through their Web site or by calling (303) 595-0529. You can read Craig's bio here.

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