July 26, 2004 08:00 AM

L.A. Lakers star Kobe Bryant scored a major legal victory Friday when the judge in his felony sexual assault case ruled that jurors will be permitted to hear evidence about his accuser’s sex life.

District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said the then-19-year-old woman’s sexual activities 72 hours before her July 1, 2003, medial examination are relevant in determining the cause of her injuries and the source of DNA evidence.

“This ruling is a huge victory for the defense,” Karen Steinhauser, a former Denver prosecutor who is now a professor at the University of Denver Law School, tells PEOPLE.

Although specifics of what the judge will allow into evidence was filed under seal, the court did reveal that the defense may introduce testimony based on “all physical evidence taken by law enforcement and the nurse examiners from the alleged victim.” This will include “all items of clothing and swabs from the physical examination.”

Jurors may also hear “evidence regarding the general nature of the relationship between the alleged victim and each outcry witness.”

Bryant, 25, faces an Aug. 27 trial on the assault charge. He has pleaded not guilty, saying that the sex he had with the hotel employee at a Vail-area resort was consensual. If convicted, he could face from four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation.

“The judge is going to allow questions regarding other outcry witnesses that will be testifying as far as what the physical relationship, if any, was between them and the alleged victim,” explains Steinhauser. This could mean testimony from the accuser’s former boyfriend, a bellboy at the lodge where the alleged assault took place.

“If someone is testifying on somebody’s behalf and they also have an intimate relationship with them, the jury should be entitled to know that,” the expert said.

The judge set a July 28 deadline for any appeals and extended the plea deadline for that date as well. Steinhauser does not believe the alleged victim will seek to remove herself from the case because of this ruling.

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