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Kobe Bryant charged with sexual assault

Bryant: 'I made the mistake of adultery'

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EAGLE, Colorado (CNN) -- Professional basketball star Kobe Bryant was charged Friday afternoon with sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman in a Colorado hotel where she worked.

"I feel after looking at the evidence that I can prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt," said Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert.

The 24-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star, who is married and the father of a daughter born in January, was charged with one count of sexual assault, a felony.

If convicted, Bryant could serve four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, Hurlbert said. The charge also carries a fine of up to $750,000.

"I'm innocent," Bryant told a press conference Friday evening at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, where the Lakers play.

With his wife and attorney by his side, Bryant took long breaths and said quietly, "You know. I didn't force her to do anything against her will. I'm innocent. You know. I sit here in front of you guys furious at myself. Disgusted at myself for making a mistake of adultery. I love my wife with all my heart. She's my backbone." (Full story)

Bryant released a similar statement earlier in the day.

The woman alleges she was a victim of sexual misconduct by Bryant on June 30 at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera in Edwards, just west of the Vail ski resort. A hotel employee, the woman filed a police complaint the following day.

No details of the victim's allegations have been made public, and a judge has sealed information in the case. Bryant stayed at the Colorado hotel from June 30 to July 2, according to hotel manager Paul Pastoor.

Eagle County Sheriff Joseph Hoy issued an arrest warrant, and Bryant returned to Colorado from Los Angeles to surrender on July 4. He was released on $25,000 bond.

"It is alleged that he caused sexual penetration or intrusion, and he caused submission of the victim through actual physical force," Hurlbert told reporters Friday.

Hurlbert was consulted on the decision to issue an arrest warrant but reportedly disagreed on the timing. He held back the announcement of charges while completing an investigation and awaiting test results from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Bryant's wife, Vanessa Bryant, also released a statement.

"I know that my husband has made a mistake -- the mistake of adultery," she said. "He and I will have to deal with that within our marriage, and we will do so. He is not a criminal." (Vanessa Bryant statement)

Bryant's attorney, Pamela Mackey, who organized the press conference, works for the Denver law firm that represented John and Patsy Ramsey while they were under suspicion in the death of their daughter, JonBenet. The Ramseys have never been charged with a crime.

Mackey said her client would seek a jury trial and would not attempt to try the case in the media. "We are confident that a fair and impartial jury will find that Kobe Bryan is innocent," she said.

start quoteI didn't force her to do anything against her will. I'm innocent.end quote
-- Kobe Bryant

Mackey also said the Eagle County sheriff and "certain of his deputies" have made inappropriate public statements and that she may seek an injunction to stop the comments.

Bryant's next court date would be August 6, Hurlbert said.

The alleged victim is a former high school cheerleader who friends describe as honest and ambitious, even auditioning for American Idol last year.

Shanna Sweeney, a friend, defended her on CNN's "Larry King Live," saying she has "absolutely no doubt" the woman is telling the truth.

"She would never use negative publicity to seek fame," Sweeney said.

Micah Bernhardt is also one of her friends. "She was real good on select choir, sang in graduation, she sang in a lot of football games, a lot of basketball games, doing the national anthems," Bernhardt said.

A hearing was held Thursday on a newspaper request to release police dispatch records of two calls to the victim's home in the past year responding to noncriminal actions. The hearing lasted about 90 minutes, but no decision is expected from the judge before July 25.

The 6-foot-6 guard was a member of the Lakers team that won three straight NBA championships in the 2000-2002 seasons. He was named most valuable player in the NBA All-Star game in the 2002 season. In 1998, Bryant became the youngest player to appear in an NBA All-Star game.

Bryant turned pro out of high school seven years ago. He was a first-round draft pick by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996 and later that year was traded to the Lakers, where he has played ever since.

Bryant's image as a role model has added to his popularity with fans, and fellow players have rallied to his defense.

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert:
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert: "I feel ... I can prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt."

Lakers commentator John Ireland said Hurlbert will have a tough job convincing not only a jury of Bryant's guilt but also his many home team supporters in Los Angeles.

"People won't believe it unless this guy can actually prove it to them. He says he's got to prove it to a jury. He's going to have to prove it to the people of Los Angeles, because [Kobe] has built up that much good will over seven years," Ireland said.

NBA Commissioner David Stern released a statement Friday evening.

"As with all allegations of a criminal nature, the NBA's policy is to await the outcome of a judicial proceeding before taking any action. We do not anticipate making further comments during the pendency of the judicial process," Stern said.

Correspondents Gary Tuchman and Brian Cabell contributed to this report.

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