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Judge drops charge against Bryant

Bryant apologizes for his 'behavior'

Kobe Bryant
Crime, Law and Justice

EAGLE, Colorado (CNN) -- The sexual assault charge against NBA star Kobe Bryant has been dismissed in a stunning development that came less than a week before opening statements were set to begin.

Eagle County District Judge Terry Ruckriegle made the announcement in a hastily called, late-afternoon hearing. It came after prosecutors filed a motion for dismissal.

"This motion is to dismiss based on the sole fact that the victim is unable to continue," District Attorney Mark Hurlbert told the judge.

Neither Bryant nor his accuser were in the courtroom.

Bryant's attorney, Pamela Mackey, read a statement from Bryant to the court.

"I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year," the statement said. (Read full statement)

Although Bryant stopped short of acknowledging guilt, he did acknowledge the alleged victim's viewpoint.

"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."

The young woman's parents did attend the hearing.

Lin Wood, an attorney for the 20-year-old accuser, said the civil lawsuit filed August 10 against the Los Angeles Lakers star will continue.

Bryant's statement acknowledged the civil case.

"That part of the 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 statement said.

Early in August, attorneys for the woman told CNN and other news organizations that blunders made by court officials had made it difficult for the woman to continue criminal prosecution of the basketball star.

Among the errors was the release of closed-door hearing transcripts in which a defense expert testified that she believes the woman had sex after her encounter with Bryant but before she underwent a rape exam.

In late July, Ruckriegle apologized to "the people of Eagle County, the people of Colorado and to those who have come from far away for the mistake made by the court this week."

Ruckriegle was referring specifically to the mistaken release of a sealed order that included the name of Bryant's accuser.

However, there were two other major mistakes by the court. In June, a 206-page transcript that dealt with the accuser's sexual history was mistakenly sent to the news media.

In September, the court forgot to redact the accuser's name from documents.

CNN's senior legal analyst is calling the prosecution's handling of the case "a disgrace."

"That this prosecutor's office would charge Kobe Bryant with a crime that could have left him in prison for 20 years, and branded him a sex offender for the rest of his life -- and now they simply walk away from this case? ... It is a disgrace that these prosecutors have brought a case on such flimsy grounds," Jeffrey Toobin said.

Bryant, a 26-year-old Los Angeles Lakers guard, faced a single charge of felony sexual assault. A conviction could have meant a sentence of four years to life in prison, or 20 years to life on probation and a fine of $750,000.

Bryant has admitted having a sexual encounter with his then 19-year-old accuser, then a desk clerk at the Vail-area resort where he was staying. But Bryant, who is married, has said the encounter was consensual.

The young woman filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in Denver last month, accusing Bryant of raping her and seeking unspecified monetary damages. The suit also claims Bryant has a "history of attempting to commit similar acts of violent sexual assault on females he has just met."

Jury selection began Friday, with 300 people filling out questionnaires for 14 slots needed -- 12 jurors and two alternates.

Bryant was in court Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as potential jurors were questioned behind closed doors.

Both sides had been waiting for a ruling on prosecution claims that DNA tests performed by the defense involved a contaminated control panel. The testing was done on swabs taken from Bryant's accuser during a rape exam. The defense argued the tests showed the presence of semen from a man other than Bryant. However, the prosecution dropped its claims Wednesday.

Earlier Wednesday, Bryant's defense team filed a motion to get the charge dropped against him, claiming the prosecution suppressed critical exculpatory evidence when it failed to inform the defense that it was rescinding its endorsement of a forensic pathologist the prosecution planned to use as an expert witness.

Court officials had said they hoped to have the jury selected by Friday afternoon and to begin opening statements September 7, the day after the Labor Day holiday.

CNN's Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.

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