Sypher jurors to be asked about abortion, sex - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Sypher jurors to be asked about abortion, sex

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By Chris Turner, WDRB-TV Fox 41 News

LOUISVILLE, Ky.  (WDRB Fox 41) -- Prospective jurors in the Karen Sypher/Rick Pitino extortion case will have to tell a judge some of their most private feelings. The questionnaire released late Tuesday asks their beliefs about abortion and sexual mores.

Click here to view a copy of the questionnaire.

In little more than a month, Karen Sypher goes on trial in federal court in Louisville for allegedly extorting money from University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino. The trial will likely include testimony about sex, an abortion, demands of money and various promises delivered and not delivered.

The questionnaire to help attorneys and Judge Charles Simpson pick an impartial jury efficiently has 63 questions about media coverage and other potential biases.

One question asks, "If a pregnant woman had an abortion and the father consented, would your feelings about the father differ, from your feelings about the mother?"

Another question asks, "If a married person has sex with an unmarried person, do you think the married person may be more at fault than the unmarried person, or are both equally at fault?"

And another asks, "Have you or anyone close to you ever been falsely accused of sexual assault of any kind?"

Patrick Renn is a Louisville criminal defense attorney not involved in the case.  He says those questions -- and the questionnaire -- are necessary, especially in highly-publicized trials and large jury pools.

"Using the questionnaire, I think, is going to be an effective way to get good answers and also be something to that's going to be helpful to the jurors," said Renn.

Potential jurors have an option to answer questions privately.  The questionnaire also gives them clues about the nature of the charges against Karen Sypher and possible topics of testimony at trial.  The judge's cover letter admonishes potential jurors not to research the case independently.

The questionnaire is to be mailed to members of a jury pool in Jefferson County and other Kentucky counties near Louisville.

Sypher's charged with trying to extort money from Rick Pitino and lying to the FBI. The alleged extortion plot stemmed from a sexual encounter Pitino and Sypher had in 2003 at Porcini restaurant in Louisville.

Sypher told police last summer Pitino raped her and later gave her $3,000 for an abortion. Pitino admitted his "indiscretion" but said the sex was consensual.

Prosecutors say Sypher's claims were not credible.

The judge also has laid out the ground rules for media coverage of the trial, including of what, by one interpretation, seems to be a ban on the media interviewing Karen Sypher, during the trial, even away from the courthouse.

The order is not clear if Judge Simpson wanted it to apply away from the federal courthouse.

"If I were the press, I would want to understand fully what the judge meant," said Joe Tomain, visiting assistant professor at U of L's law school.

"That order seems to indicate that the press cannot conduct interviews with the defendant anywhere, regardless if it's inside the courtroom or out. If that's the case, there is likely a First Amendment violation of the press's right to engage in free speech activities," Tomain said.

Tomain is not connected to the case.

"To say the media can't have contact with the defendant, again, I think is highly unusual," said Renn.

Judges in other high-profile criminal cases have imposed "gag orders" on all parties, including the defendant, to prevent them from speaking to the media, Renn said.

A court spokesperson said the wording in the media guidelines order stands for itself.  Judge Simpson would not comment.

Karen Sypher told Fox 41 News last month she fears losing time away from her daughter if she's convicted.  Spending time in prison gives her "chills," Sypher said.

Click here to read the questionnaire.

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