By People Staff
May 10, 2004 12:00 PM

Elizabeth Smart Blossoms

More than a year after being rescued from her kidnapping ordeal, Elizabeth Smart continues to heal. The 16-year-old is dating, playing the harp and looking radiant. “I’m so thankful,” Smart told a crowd of about 400 volunteers and searchers April 21 at a ceremony honoring those who looked for her after her 2002 abduction in Salt Lake City. Since her return Elizabeth—whose accused kidnappers remain in custody pending resolution of competency issues—has gone on her first date, to her school’s Christmas prom in December. “Believe me,” says her father, Ed, “I almost do a background check [on her dates].”

Kobe Bryant’s Full-Court Press

During closed-door hearings in Eagle, Colo., April 26 and 27, Kobe Bryant’s defense team questioned several of his accuser’s former boyfriends in an effort to persuade Judge W. Terry Ruckriegle that the young woman’s past sexual history should be admissible at the basketball star’s trial. “If the defense can show that this young woman had a history of sexual activity with other men just like the encounter with Kobe Bryant, then that destroys one negative inference against the defendant,” says legal analyst Craig Silverman of these arguments, which are now scheduled to continue on Way 10. “But is this testimony relevant to an important issue in the case, or is it just character assassination? I think it’s a close call.”

Michael Jackson’s Wake-up Call

What could have motivated Michael Jackson to fire high-powered lawyers Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman less than a week before his scheduled April 30 arraignment? Apparently plenty more than his stated reason of needing “the full attention of those who are representing me.” According to sources close to the embattled entertainer, word of his indictment April 21 came as a shock to Jackson. “It scared Michael to death,” says one source of Jackson, who got the news during a luxe family vacation with his three children in Orlando (where they stayed at a rented 12-bedroom, 3.5-acre spread a par-5 down the road from Tiger Woods’s mansion). “It was a wake-up call.”

Jackson’s subsequent replacement of his lawyers with former Robert Blake attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. could be the first of many shake-ups within his camp. “Michael is realizing his own mortality now,” says a source close to him. “He is realizing, ‘I could go to prison.’ ”