Sypher trial Day 4
By: Travis K. Kircher
Witness: Rick Pitino
Part II - Cross Examination
Rick Pitino's testimony continued today -- but the witness seat probably wasn't as comfortable for the University of Louisville basketball coach. This morning, he was confronted by James Earhart, Karen Sypher's attorney.
Pitino arrived – dressed very similarly to what he wore yesterday. Black suit. Red tie (though not as bright as yesterday's) and a white shirt. Bottled water.
"Let's talk about your preparation for your court testimony yesterday," said James Earhart, Karen Sypher's attorney. (I believe Earhart was attempting to paint Pitino's earlier testimony as "rehearsed.")
Pitino said he had met with the U.S. Attorney's Office only three times before his testimony. He also testified that he hadn't been watching news coverage of the trial.
"We live on the road for the month of July," he said.
Earhart asked Pitino if he had coordinated his testimony with, Kenny Klein, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations, who he met with outside the courtroom yesterday afternoon during a break in his testimony.
"No I have not," Pitino said, adding that they only discussed his mood and new recruits -- not the specifics of the trial. "He just asked me how I was doing,"
Earhart said he saw Klein taking notes during the trial.
"Not for me," Pitino replied.
When Earhart asked Pitino to explain who the notes were for, Pitino told him he'd have to ask Kline.
Earhart continued to probe the extent to which Pitino prepared for his testimony, asking him if he had a plan.
"Not really," Pitino said.
But wasn't he here to prove that he didn't rape Mrs. Sypher?
"This is not myself vs. Mrs. Sypher," Pitino said, adding that the prosecution represented the government – not him, and that it was the prosecution's job to convict Sypher.
"It's my job to tell the truth," Pitino said.
Earhart asked if Pitino had been a successful motivational speaker.
"I was – until Mrs. Sypher came with these allegations," Pitino said. He later told Earhart he used to make anywhere from $1,000 to $40,000 a speech.
The topic of discussion then turned to the meeting that took place between Rick Pitino, Tim Sypher and Karen Sypher on Feb. 26, 2009. The meeting took place immediately after Pitino received the first threatening cell phone message that accused him of raping Karen Sypher at Porcini restaurant.
"In the entire hour-long meeting, you did not challenge the allegation of rape, did you?" Earhart asked, adding later, "Not once did you mention to Karen Sypher, ‘where would you get the allegation of rape?'"
"There was no mention of rape, because it never happened," Pitino said. "I didn't have to challenge it because it never happened."
Earhart continued to question why – if he was innocent of rape – Pitino never, in that meeting, asserted that the anonymous man who left the message had made a false charge against him.
"I'm just telling the truth – and nothing but the truth," Pitino exclaimed.
"I bet you are!" Earhart said.
"I didn't have to challenge something that's not true," Pitino said later.
Earhart said that he would have, if it had been him and he were innocent.
"That's you sir, that's not me," Pitino said, adding later that, "what you do and what I do are completely different things."
Earhart then pointed out that, during the meeting, Pitino told them that all he wanted to do was ‘make her life easier.'
What was that about?
"I would have liked for her to get counseling," Pitino said.
Why didn't he tape the second meeting with Tim Sypher and Karen Sypher, which took place later that evening?
Pitino said, "I was just frightened and trying to find out who made the phone calls," not "playing detective" or trying to get "devices."
He added that he never taped meetings.
"If I didn't tape any meetings, I didn't tape that one," he said.
Earhart then turned zeroed in on the second meeting. He pointed to Pitino's testimony yesterday that Jacob Wise – Karen Sypher's son – told him he was 90 percent sure he recognized the voice of the caller, but that Pitino should give the name to Tim Sypher.
Earhart asked Pitino if he went to the authorities.
"You know when I went to the authorities," Pitino said. "I did not immediately go to the authorities."
Pitino said he didn't call the police because he didn't yet have proof of the extortion – but Earhart insinuated that the reason he didn't call the authorities was because he had committed the rapes.
Earhart then brought up the third threatening phone call Pitino received.
"Did you go to law enforcement then?" Earhart asked.
"I did not," Pitino said.
Pitino's testimony later turned briefly to the issue of Karen Sypher's alleged demands. He said she told him that she didn't have any money.
"Tim Sypher was making $75,000 a year, so I don't know why that was such a difficult time for her," he said.
But Earhart later replied that, "in the meeting that we actually have a recording of, Karen Sypher never asked you for anything did she?"
Pitino later called Sypher, "one of the best actresses I've ever seen in my life."
Earhart then began to address certain phone messages that Karen Sypher left for him – messages that no longer existed.
He accused Pitino of being afraid of the accusations Sypher was making.
Pitino said the only thing he was afraid of was blackmail, adding that, "I don't fear the truth."
"Neither do we sir," Earhart said.
Pitino added that the messages weren't important.
"Well, we'll have to trust you because you erased them," Earhart replied.
The topic of abortion then came up – specifically, the abortion that Karen Sypher got weeks after her encounter with Pitino at Porcini. Earhart told Pitino to recall the point at which he sent Tim Sypher with Karen Sypher to Cincinnati – a trip which resulted in Sypher aborting the baby.
"You were too busy to take care of that?" Earhart said.
Pitino said he had too many scheduled obligations.
"Why would you pay for an abortion of your child?" Earhart asked.
Pitino said the $3,000 he gave Karen Sypher was for health insurance – not an abortion.
Why did Tim Sypher take her to Cincinnati?
"You'll have to ask him that question," Pitino said. He added later that he "arranged" for Tim to take her to get an abortion if she chose to.
"I did not pay for an abortion," Pitino testified.
"We're going to spar over this," Earhart said.
"Yes we are," Pitino said.
Was Tim Sypher dating Karen Sypher at this time?
"I have no idea who Tim Sypher dates," Pitino said.
Earhart pointed out that Tim Sypher eventually married the defendant.
"I did know that," Pitino testified. "I was called out of the clear blue."
Earhart then addressed a college fund, set up by Tim Sypher, allegedly for Tim and Karen Sypher's daughter. Earhart pointed out that college fund didn't make sense, since Tim Sypher was a college employee and his daughter would be able to go to school for free.
Pitino admitted that he gave Tim money for the fund, at Tim's request.
"All I was doing was giving them a Christmas bonus," Pitino testified.
Earhart asked Pitino about what he called a "very important day." That day was April 7, 2008, the day Pitino approached the Kentucky Attorney General's Office claiming Sypher was trying to extort him.
"It wasn't a very important day," Pitino objected. "It was a very sad day."
That visit, Earhart said, happened shortly after Pitino got a letter from attorney Dana Kolter's office claiming he had raped Karen Sypher.
"It wasn't a letter," Pitino said. "It was a demand note."
But before he went to the authorities, Pitino sent two of his associates – one of whom was a Lexington attorney – to talk to Sypher on what he called, "a fact-finding mission."
Earhart asked Pitino if his two associates offered Sypher $500,000 at that meeting.
"They did not say they offered her anything," Pitino said.
Earhart asked Pitino if he decided to go to the authorities because that offer was declined.
"I just told you that no amount of money was offered," a frustrated Pitino said later. "It keeps coming back. I don't know why."
Later during the cross examination, Earhart steered Pitino's memory to the events of July 31, 2003, at Porcini restaurant. He began with Pitino's earlier testimony that Karen Sypher sat down next to the bar and began rubbing his leg.
"You, being married, didn't tell her that was inappropriate?" Earhart asked.
"I did not," Pitino said.
Did Pitino know where Vinnie Tatum – his designated driver for the evening – was?
"I wasn't thinking of that at the time," he said.
Was he uncomfortable?
"I can't recall whether I was or not," Pitino said.
Earhart asked if this was a common thing for Pitino.
"It doesn't happen at all," he replied, adding later that, "we were just finishing up our glass of wine."
Earhart then moved into the shady area of sexual relations. He recounted Pitino's testimony yesterday that he and Karen Sypher engaged in sexual activity.
"You protested?" Earhart asked.
"I did not," Pitino said.
"You engaged with sexual intercourse with Karen Sypher?" Earhart asked.
"I did," Pitino admitted.
Pitino quietly added later that his DNA did not get inside Karen Sypher's body.
Earhart again brought up Vinnie Tatum – Pitino's personal assistant and designated driver for the evening. He cited Pitino's testimony that he didn't realize Tatum was still in the restaurant and for years later believed Tatum had abandoned him at the restaurant that night. Earhart said that in most cases, this would cost a man his job, but Pitino saw him the next day and never addressed the issue.
"Yes," Pitino said, "I never questioned him because I was very humiliated and very embarrassed."
"I didn't even bring it up," he added a moment later. "I was very embarrassed and humiliated to be with another woman."
Earhart said that when Rick Pitino later arranged for Tim Sypher to take his future wife Karen Sypher to Cincinnati – the trip that resulted in an abortion – Tim was doing "what he needed to do to take care of the team."
Pitino responded by saying that Tim was doing what he needed to do to "help a person out."
"It was nothing to do with the team," Pitino added.
Moments later, Pitino, unprovoked, fired a salvo at Karen Sypher, arguing that "it's kind of inconvenient" that Sypher recorded her first meeting with Pitino and not the second and third when he says she demanded gifts.
"I find that fascinating," he said.
Earhart responded that he found it "fascinating" that Pitino didn't tape them himself.
Moments later, the topic turned to Pitino's wife and children.
"I love my family very much," Pitino said.
Earhart responded by saying that was "the reason he should have gone home," from Porcini on the night of July 31, 2003.
"That is 100 percent correct," Pitino said.
The prosecution rose once more to question Pitino one last time.
After a few preliminaries, Pitino explained the effects the allegation of rape had on his family.
He said "the most difficult thing" was telling his wife and kids.
"She did not deserve this," he said of his wife, his voice faltering.
He added that his son had been his assistant basketball coach for two of the happiest years of his life – until this scandal.
"I had to suggest to him to move on to another job," Pitino said, because "I didn't want him to go through the embarrassment and humiliation" the media attention would bring.
Shortly after that, Rick Pitino left the stand.
Witness: Cheryl Grant
Former employee of A Woman's Choice Resource Center
Shortly after lunch on Thursday, the prosecution called Cheryl Grant to the stand.
Grant is currently an employee of Children's Orthopedics of Louisville, but was employed at A Woman's Choice Resource Center in 2003.
Located on West Market Street, the center provides pregnancy tests, diapers and maternity clothes.
Grant's testimony was brief. She verified the records of a patient in 2003 who identified herself as "Karen W." That patient received two urine pregnancy tests – one on Aug. 21, 2003 and the other on Aug. 26, 2003. She also received ultrasounds on those dates.
Grant said the urine tests gave a positive result both times, but the ultrasound tests could not verify that "Karen W." was pregnant.
Grant said the patient did not fill out an address or social security number. Notes written on her records indicated that she was "planning to abort if positive."
(Note from Travis Kircher: The reason the prosecutors put Cheryl Grant on the stand is probably to verify the latter fact. Sypher claims she was "forced" into an abortion by Rick Pitino. I believe the prosecution hopes to establish through this testimony that Sypher planned to have the abortion on her own.)
The defense briefly pointed out that the records also indicate that "Karen W." had missed her last menstrual period and that's why she had come to get the pregnancy test (something else Karen Sypher claimed.)
Grant was excused from the stand after this brief testimony.
Witness: Christina Weigand
Former assistant director and patient advocate
Cincinnati Women's Services
Weigand worked at Cincinnati Women's Services at the time Karen Sypher traveled there with Tim Sypher to get an abortion in Aug. 2003.
Weigand said her clinic practiced "head to heart counseling" – a philosophy she said takes steps that "go beyond" what Planned Parenthood does to ensure that women are confident about their reproductive choices.
The prosecution produced the clinic's records of a woman named "Karen Wise" (Sypher's name was Wise at the time) and displayed them for the jury.
Weigand testified that women at the center are allowed to be with their friends, husbands or partners while making the decision, but not the entire time.
"There is also a period of time where we ask to speak with the woman by herself," she said.
Weigand was questioned about a form Wise filled out while she was at the clinic – a form that was meant to record her state of mind. On that form, Wise described her mood as "confident" and "strong." She checked a mark in the "not true" box next to several statements, including:
1) I believe abortion is the same as murder.
2) I believe that God will punish me.
3) I believe that I am being forced into an abortion.
Weigand said Wise returned the next day (Ohio has a 24-hour waiting period for abortions) and had the abortion performed. Weigand also testified that the doctor observed the "products of conception" (the removed fetus) and determined that the fetus was five weeks old.
Notes taken about Wise by personnel of the center at that time indicate that Wise "felt that abortion is a woman's choice but never thought she'd be having one" and that she was "confident in her decision, but is frustrated at being pregnant at all."
The defense pointed out that the clinic's records asked for the name of the person who accompanied Wise to the clinic, but no name was filled out. A telephone number was written in the emergency contact box, but it was scratched out, and another number was written above it.
(Note from Travis Kircher: Sypher's attorneys claim she wanted to put Tim Sypher's number here, but he told her not to and she scratched it out, writing another number instead.
Weigand was excused from the stand moments later.
Witness: Tim Sypher
Ex-husband of Karen Sypher
(NOTE: To avoid confusion between Tim and Karen Sypher in this blog entry, I have chosen to refer to them by their first names.)
Late Thursday afternoon, Tim Sypher took the stand.
Sypher is the recent ex-husband of Karen Sypher. He's been an employee of the University of Louisville for 10 years and currently works as the Yum! Center director.
"Who hired you at UofL?" Assistant Prosecutor John Kuhn asked.
"Coach Pitino," Tim replied.
The prosecution delved into Tim's history – which includes a background in Charleston, Mass.
"Is that where you get that funny accent?" Kuhn asked.
"Yes sir," Tim replied sheepishly.
"I know you know the defendant, Ms. Sypher," Kuhn said later.
"Yes sir," Tim said, adding that Karen is his ex wife. The two were married on April 16, 2004, but have since divorced and are now engaged in a custody battle.
Kuhn asked if that custody battle would affect his testimony.
"No sir," Tim Sypher replied. "I'm here to tell the truth."
Tim was asked to recall the first time he met Karen.
He said Coach Rick Pitino had called him and told him "that he supposedly got someone pregnant."
He was later asked to pick Karen up for a meeting with Pitino about the issue. Tim testified that "I pulled up in my Toyota" and "asked her if she wanted to get in, and she refused to."
Tim testified that Karen decided to follow him to the meeting instead.
"She pulled up the front" of his condo – where the meeting was to be held – and he let her in."
"Coach asked me if I would go upstairs" during the meeting, he testified.
Tim said one thing stood out about Karen that day: her demeanor. He described her as all "business," with a long black sportcoat, a white skirt and sunglasses.
"How long did Mr. Pitino and the defendant meet?" Kuhn asked.
"I'd say close to an hour," Tim replied, adding that during that time, he had heard no screams or scuffling, despite the fact that, at 1,800 square feet, he says his condo is "kind of small."
(NOTE: Karen Sypher's attorneys claim she was raped by Rick Pitino during this meeting – and that she screamed but no one came to her aid.)
He testified that after the meeting, Karen left without incident.
"She was business," he said. "She had something on her mind and she walked right out."
Later, he says he went on a mission to find an abortion clinic for Karen.
"I looked at a couple of places," he said. "One in Evansville. One in Cincinnati. And one in Indianapolis."
"Did Rick Pitino give you money?" Kuhn asked.
"I really don't remember the timing of the money, but I remember how much it was: $3,000," Tim said, adding that Pitino specifically said it was for "health insurance."
On the way to the abortion clinic, he said he and Karen engaged in "small talk" and she talked about his eyes.
Kuhn asked Tim what Karen said about his eyes.
"She said I had beautiful eyes," Tim recalled.
Tim testified that, while at the clinic, "we sat there a little bit" and he "told her to go to that special place" to comfort her.
Kuhn asked if Sypher was concerned – that she might be backing out of the abortion.
"I don't think she's got concerns," he said, adding that she was just going through a tough time.
"Did anybody pay for the procedure?" Kuhn asked.
"I paid for it with the money that I got from Coach Pitino," Tim said.
He said the money was originally for health insurance, but he went ahead and used it for the abortion because Karen didn't have any money.
"I was between a rock and a hard place and I didn't know what to do," he said.
Tim said he and Karen later shared a special moment at the clinic when "I put my hand out to her" and she took his hand.
Tim testified that after the took Karen back to her home in Louisville, she had some errands around the house she wanted him to do. He said she needed help with a basketball goal, and there was a leak in the bathroom.
"I'm not a plumber," he testified, but he said he looked at it anyway.
He said before he left, he and Karen hugged and Karen asked, "Is this it?"
When asked what this meant, Tim testified that Karen must have felt something special at the abortion clinic and hoped that it might blossom into something more.
"Were you seeing anybody at this time?" Kuhn asked.
"I was seeing a woman," Tim replied. "I was seeing a couple of women actually."
This brought laughter from the court.
Tim testified that, shortly after that, he and Karen began seeing each other and engaging in a sexual relationship. He even brought her to parties with UofL staff. Tim said Karen was always pleasant toward Pitino.
"Did he tell you to brainwash her?" Kuhn asked.
"Brainwash her?" Tim Sypher replied. "That's craziness."
Karen got pregnant shortly after that, according to Tim's testimony, but they decided to get abortion because they weren't married at the time.
"It's something I don't like to talk about sir," he said.
They were later married and bought a $320,000 house in Lake Forest because "she always wanted to live in Lake Forest," Tim testified.
"How were things the first couple of years of marriage?" Kuhn asked.
"Great!" Tim said, although he later added that "a little bit after that" "things were not going that good."
"All of a sudden, she started using the rape word," Tim said, explaining that Karen began accusing Pitino of raping her. "She'd yell it in front of the kids."
He said the family was also faltering under financial pressure.
"I was able to make those payments but it wasn't easy," he said.
Soon, some of Karen's family members moved in, including her mother, her son and his girlfriend.
"It was a small house," Tim said, adding that it got "really congested."
Tim said Karen would go through mood swings and often talk about getting a separation.
"She'd talk about divorce, and the next day we'd be kissing and hugging," he said.
Then the testimony turned to the events of Feb. 26, 2009.
"Do you remember that day?" Kuhn asked.
"Oh yeah," Tim said.
Kuhn asked why.
"My heart fell to the ground," Tim said.
Tim testified that he got a text message from Pitino that said, "Red Alert."
"Eventually he called me," Tim said. "He said, ‘we need to get Karen in here immediately.'"
Tim said he called Karen and asked her to come to the Yum! Center, but she seemed to just "take her time."
"When somebody says ‘Red Alert – you need to get in here,' you don't dilly-dally and take your time. You need to get in here," he testified.
Tim testified that Karen met with Pitino and later told him she wanted a legal separation. She also told him not to come home that night.
Instead, Tim testified, he stayed in the men's locker room at the Yum! Center that night – and hotels the following nights.
Later, he said Karen began demanding a Lexus 470 from Pitino.
"I said, ‘I don't know what's going on here,'" Tim told the jury. "I don't think it's right."
Tim testified that he himself bought a car for Karen's son Jacob, using a $10,000 bonus Pitino gave him as a down payment (and taking out a loan for the rest).
"Did he keep the car?" Kuhn asked.
Tim testified that Jacob and his dad returned it two months later.
Kuhn then guided the testimony toward the demand note that Karen allegedly wrote Rick Pitino in March.
"I wasn't around when she made it up," Tim testified.
Tim said he went to see Karen at the doctor's office (she was there for her mother). He said he was wearing their wedding ring around his neck on a necklace (she had given it back to him.) He said that, while they were together, Karen began recounting a list of things she wanted from Pitino. Tim said he told her he couldn't remember all of those things and she'd need to write them down.
"I don't know what she wanted," he told the jury.
He said that letter was later given to him in a sealed envelope.
"I stuck it in my pocket and held it to my chest," he said. "I don't know why."
Then he got on a plane bound for Morgantown, West Virginia, where the team would be playing.
"What did you do when you got to West Virginia?" he was asked.
"I went to Coach's room," he said. Then, he testified, he gave Pitino the letter.
"I'm like, ‘I don't want to give this to you. I really should rip it up,'" Tim testified.
The prosecution asked Tim if he ever threatened Karen Sypher in the whole time he knew her.
"I've never threatened her in my life," he said.
Did he ever threaten to put her or her children in "concrete shoes?"
"No!" Tim Sypher said. "Like I said before, I loved those kids and I still love those kids today."
Court was adjourned at 4:30 p.m.
U.S. District Courthouse
First Floor -- The Media Room
Rick Pitino is out of his element.
That was one of the first things I noticed while watching him testify yesterday afternoon. It's not that he failed to maintain his dignity. It's not that he "blew it" on the stand.
It's just that he's out of his element.
What is his element?
His element is nodding at screaming fans cheering his NCAA championship win in 1996. His element can be seen at book signings. It's visible when he's onstage -- coining new optimistic slogans -- with Zig Ziglar at leadership conferences. It comes through when he assesses new recruits for a gaggle of sports reporters.
This is how we're used to seeing Rick Pitino.
We're not used to seeing him in a witness box. We're not used to seeing him sitting alone like an island in that box during a 15 minute break when the judge is gone, the jury is gone and he's alone "on stage" so to speak, while reporters and observers yak away.
Next up today: Pitino's testimony continues, as the defense gets to cross-examine him. Everyone is wondering how he will hold up under this scrutiny. Obviously, the defense is going to try to paint him as a rapist.
Keep checking this blog throughout the day for more up-to-date report.