| Kobe Bryant, flanked by defence lawyers Pamela Mackey and Hal Haddon, leave the Justice Center in Eagle, Colorado, after the hearing on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Eight years after O J Simpson riveted America by being cleared in Los Angeles of murdering his former wife, the nation was glued to live television Wednesday night, fascinated by a new “trial of the century”.
It was the first court appearance of the multi-millionaire Los Angeles Lakers baseball superstar Kobe Bryant, who denies raping a 19-year-old woman in Colorado.
With its intriguing mix of celebrity, sex, violence and high stakes, case 000204 on the docket in the town of Eagle (population 3,500), in a high valley of the Rockies, is destined to run and run on prime time television.
Robert Thompson, Syracuse University professor of communications, called the O J case a “dress rehearsal” for the coverage anticipated in the days ahead. He said: “The industry of TV news requires a trial of the century to hold them over between stories of the century, and the 24-hour news channels have figured out how exactly to grip a nation.”
The usually tranquil Eagle is under media circus invasion with more than 500 journalists fighting for the 22 press seats in the court. Motels for miles are packed with television crews and lawyers being paid fortunes as minute-by-minute pundits. Court TV was a “must” watch as it switched from the trial in North Carolina of a novelist accused of killing his wife to the Bryant hearing, where the player, 24, was due to appear into a world far from his pampered life in Los Angeles.
He was expected to be in court for only a matter of minutes, being formally arraigned on a sexual assault charge stemming from an incident in his bedroom at the Cordillera Lodge and Spa, where his alleged victim was working. He was in town for knee surgery.
The woman, a former high school cheerleader, admits to going to his room, but claims that events got out of hand.
Bryant, married with an infant daughter, has moved swiftly, with the aid of the Lakers’ powerful public relations machinery, to put the woman on the defensive.
He appeared before the media, holding the hand of his wife of two years, Vanessa, and confessing to the “mistake of adultery”. If convicted, he could face up to four years in prison.
The actual trial is not for months but, like O J, Bryant’s wholesome image has already taken a pounding in the court of public opinion with the massive coverage of his arrest.