A Colorado judge on Wednesday dismissed a rape charge against basketball star Kobe Bryant after the young woman who made the accusations told prosecutors she could not go on with the case.
"This case is dismissed," District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said in an Eagle, Colorado, courtroom, bringing a stunning and abrupt halt to one of the most closely watched criminal cases in the United States.
Neither Bryant nor his 20-year-old accuser were present but the Los Angeles Lakers star issued a statement that apologized to her without admitting any wrongdoing.
"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 that I did," Bryant said in the statement.
The woman's parents were in the courtroom to hear the prosecutor explain that the woman, who has had death threats, could not go through with the trial.
"This motion is to dismiss based on the sole fact that the victim is unable to continue," District Attorney Mark Hurlbert told the judge at the onset of the hearing.
The woman told police that Bryant raped her after she entered his hotel room on June 30, 2003 at a Vail-area resort where she worked.
The woman's attorney, John Clune, revealed that police were investigating a rape crisis counselor who may have been trying to sell information about the woman.
"I had a discussion with the FBI. The counselor was under investigation for conspiracy to sell her counseling file," Clune said.
Clune said that no discussions had taken place with Bryant's lawyer to settle a civil suit the woman filed, seeking monetary compensation. Dismissing the criminal case should not have an impact on the civil case, Clune told the court.
Earlier in the day, defense attorneys asked for a dismissal, arguing prosecutors had not disclosed that one of their own expert witnesses had information that could help Bryant.
Bryant's attorneys said the expert's statements to prosecutors could have "undermined the accuser's allegations" about the cause and significance of injuries the woman is said to have sustained when Bryant allegedly raped her.
One source in the case said the defense's filing had an important impact on the decision to dismiss the case.
Hurlbert told reporters outside the courthouse how much he admired the young woman. "She is truly, truly an amazing person," Hurlbert said. "Today justice was sadly interrupted," he added, saying he had been ready to proceed with the case.
However, legal observers had criticized the prosecution, calling the state's case weak. Many had expected it to be dropped several weeks ago when the judge said testimony about the woman's sexual activity around the time she said she was raped could be admitted at trial.
The decision was important because the defense claimed injuries she sustained might have been caused by consensual sex with another man hours after she said Bryant raped her. The woman had strongly denied the allegation.