Sypher trial Day 7 - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Sypher trial Day 7


By: Travis K. Kircher 

Witness: Special Agent Steve Wight
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

If the name Steve Wight sounds familiar, it's for good reason. This is the second time he's testified in this trial.

Special Agent Steve Wight of the FBI testified early last week about how he headed up the Bureau's investigation into Karen Sypher.

Today, Wight's testimony was broken into two segments of a few minutes, broken up by over an hour-and-a-half.

Assistant U.S. District Prosecutor John Kuhn rose to begin his questioning.

"When was Mrs. Sypher first charged?" he asked.

Wight testified that she was charged on April 24, 2007 and that the initial complaint consisted of two charges: one charge of extortion (related to the threatening telephone calls to University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino) and one charge of lying to the FBI (related to her initial claim that she didn't know who made the calls.)

He said the additional charges were added later, in a superseding indictment.

Moments later, Kuhn asked Wight about his initial interview with Pitino. Under questioning, Wight recalled that Pitino did mention the name "Tom Gabler" (SP?) as a possible suspect who may have made the threatening phone calls to him. (This was the name Pitino testified that Jacob Wise gave to him, indicating that he was "90 percent" sure he recognized the voice on the recordings as Gabler's.)

Wight said that subscriber information was sought from AT&T regarding Gabler. Kuhn asked if it would have helped if the FBI employed the use of pin register or track-and-trace devices. Wight said it would not.

Eventually, Wight said, it didn't matter because they found the man who made all three calls: Lester Goetzinger.

He said they went to interview Goetzinger at gave him a choice of being questioned in the car or in his home. Wight said Goetzinger chose the car, "because his wife was home."

Wight said they asked, "Do you know why we're here?" and Goetzinger replied, "because of the phone calls I made."

Kuhn then turned his attention to Earhart's insinuation the Louisville Metro Police Department and the FBI wrongfully collaborated when they investigated Karen Sypher.

"It is encouraged that we cooperate with state and local officials," Wight said.

Wight said he received a request from Abbott – a request to obtain the FBI's full report on their interview with Rick Pitino. Wight said Abbott wanted the report because he was about to interview Pitino in relation to the rape allegations Sypher had reported to LMPD. Wight complied.

Steve Pence, Pitino's attorney, also made a similar request for the report, Kuhn pointed out. Did Abbott hand the report over to Pence as well?

"We don't provide 302's to people we interview," Wight said.

At the conclusion of Kuhn's direct examination, Earhart wanted to approach the bench. Moments later, the judge declared a 15 minute break. That 15 minute break turned into more than 90 minutes, in which we're told the attorneys were discussing what evidence could and could not be included into the record.

At roughly 3:30 in the afternoon, court resumed, and James Earhart, Karen Sypher's attorney, cross examined Special Agent Steve Wight.

Earhart castigated Pitino and the FBI for, in his view, not reporting the threatening calls in a timely fashion.

He asked Wight if, assuming he had been notified about the threatening phone calls immediately by Pitino, he could have traced the call and contacted LMPD, which had "hundreds" of officers scattered throughout the city who could have apprehended the caller.

Wight said he couldn't speak to whether there were hundreds of LMPD officers who could have acted.

"Would you give me more than 10?" Earhart huffed.

"Probably," Wight admitted.

Don't good leads become stale the longer you wait to report them?

"In some instances," Wight said.

Earhart theorized that there could have been 16 calls – even 20 calls – to Rick Pitino's phone that we'll never know about because he, in Earhart's view, failed to report the crime in a timely fashion.

Earhart demanded to know if the FBI had "voice enhancement systems" or "voice recognition systems" that it could have employed to help identify the caller.

Wight said that he didn't know, adding that, "we never had one done."

"I know you never had one done," Earhart retorted, adding that he didn't need to know whether one had been done, but if the possibility existed.

"You don't know if for a fact?"

Earhart said he didn't know.

"Will you be able to look that up for me tonight?" Earhart scoffed, adding that maybe Wight could come back in and tell the jury tomorrow morning.

Earhart then called into question whether the voice in the third threatening phone call could possibly be Goetzinger. He asked Wight to compare the three callers in the three recordings and demanded to know how the third voice could be Goetzinger.

"Clearly the first caller has a distinct southern accent," Earhart said.

Wight said they all sounded the same to him.

"I'll get back atcha????" Earhart said, mimicking the southern accent on the first two calls.

Didn't Wight think the third caller sounded different?

"Somewhat," Wight said. "He [Goetzinger] is more distinct in the last call."

He added later that, "I knew within a short time who made the calls, so it was not necessary to do voice recognition."

Moments later, Kuhn rose again for a final re-direct examination of Wight.

He said that, "rather than talk to you about the tools of the FBI in some hypothetical case," he wanted to discuss what happened in the investigation.

He returned to the topic of the threatening phone calls.

"Were they made by the same person or a different person?" Kuhn asked.

"The same person," Wight said. "Lester Goetzinger."

Wight said Goetzinger didn't know where the third phone call was made from during his initial interview, but he gave up the location in another interview that took place later. The third location he gave matched up with the third location listed in Pitino's cell phone records.

"He didn't have access to Rick Pitino's cell phone records," Kuhn said. "Did you give him access to Rick Pitino's cell phone records?"

Wight testified that he did not.

Moments later, Wight was dismissed from the stand and Kuhn made a monumental declaration.

"That will conclude the United States' case-in-chief, your honor," he said.

Thus ended the prosecution's case against Karen Sypher – and the court was adjourned immediately thereafter. Court is expected to resume at 9:30 tomorrow (Wednesday) morning as the defense begins to bring its witnesses.

Witness: Sgt. Andy Abbott
Louisville Metro Police Department
Part II

Below is a detailed account of the testimony of Sgt. Andy Abbott, which took place this morning.

After the lengthy video interview of Karen Sypher was played by the jury, the prosecution rose to continue its questioning of Sgt. Andy Abbott.

Prosecutors asked if – following the interview – Abbott had any questions or concerns about Sypher's story.

"I did," Abbott testified.

"One of the main was what seemed to be her concerns," he said.

Abbott said Sypher was over-anxious about how her decision to come forward about the alleged rapes would affect her standing with the FBI.

Abbott also said Sypher seemed too focused on the abortion, adding that she was "feeling a great deal of regret over that part of it." He added that she seemed more focused on the abortion than the assault.

Prosecutors asked if he was also worried about the truthfulness of the rape allegations themselves.

"Yes," Abbott replied.

"Did you talk with Mrs. Sypher about the seriousness of that?" he asked.

"I don't think I did," he said, adding that he was more concerned about "her well being" at the time.

"Did you give her an opportunity to recant at that point?" the prosecutor asked.

Abbott said he told Sypher that they hadn't passed any "point of no return" yet.

At the prosecutor's request, Abbott explained that anyone bringing forward an allegation of rape has the option to withdraw that allegation. He said this is typically referred to as the "victim's refusal to cooperate."

"You were pointing out to her that you thought there were some problems?" the prosecution asked.


The prosecution then pointed out that the Commonwealth Attorney's Office did not pursue rape charges against Rick Pitino.

"They did not," Abbott said, adding later that, "They were closed. The prosecution declined on both reports."

One more thing about Sypher's story was troubling, Abbott said. Karen Sypher never told him that Vinnie Tatum – Rick Pitino's personal assistant and designated driver – was not in the Porcini restaurant on the night of the first alleged rape.

Moments later, the prosecution gave up the floor and James Earhart rose for his cross-examination.

Earhart pointed out that in 2009, Abbott was part of the LMPD's Special Victims of Financial Crimes Unit, and did not typically investigate rape cases. He said he had eight detectives (seven now) under him, and he would typically assign such a case to them.

"That was not what was done in this particular investigation," Earhart said.

Abbott said he was contacted by then-Lt. Col. Troy Riggs, who told him – according to Abbott – that, "I want your squad to handle this like any other case" but that he wanted him (Abbott) in the middle of it. Abbott said he would agree to be in charge of it, but that "he wouldn't look over their shoulders."

Abbott described Riggs as one tier under Chief Robert White.

Earhart asked if this case was handled like any other ordinary case.

He said that, "as much as we would like for it to be, it is what it is."

Earhart went on to point out – and Abbott agreed – that many women are ashamed to report rape and it's not uncommon that they would wait some time before going to the police.

Under questioning from Earhart, Abbott admitted that he had contact with the FBI about their case against Sypher following his interview with her.

"I was asked by Mr. Pitino's attorney to get in conduct with them," Abbott said, adding that Steve Pence told him that the FBI had relevant info.

Earhart then went through a litany of things Sypher told Abbott that Abbott was later able to confirm. He confirmed that Sypher visited A Woman's Choice. He confirmed that she had a meeting with Pitino at Tim Sypher's condo.

Earhart pointed out that Abbott originally disputed this, but it turned out to be true. He also brought up supposed statements made to Abbott by Pitino – statements that made it appear that he was in California at the time of the meeting and that the meeting never took place.

"He just said that he was in some beach, but he did not deny that the meeting took place," Abbott said. He added a moment later that, "that wasn't a big thing in the grand scheme of things."

Earhart then broached the subject of Vinnie Tatum – and Abbott's suspicion that Sypher deliberately withheld information that Tatum was in Porcini during her sexual encounter with Pitino.

"Why would you believe that Karen Sypher should know that Vinnie Tatum was there when Rick Pitino didn't even know he was there?" Earhart demanded, adding later that, "No one knew if Vinnie Tatum was there!"

"We still don't know if Vinnie Tatum was there!" Earhart said.

Earhart then asked Abbott to recall his interview of Rick Pitino, which was the natural next step in the LMPD's investigation of Sypher's rape claims. Earhart zeroed in on the fact that Pitino was interviewed in his office – not the LMPD headquarters – and it was not recorded.

"You didn't have him come down to the station and interview like everybody else?" an incredulous Earhart asked.

Abbott qualified that not everyone is interviewed at the police headquarters.

Earhart pointed out that we had just finished watching a two-hour interview of Sypher, but when it came to Abbott's interview of Pitino, "we don't have a recording of that meeting, do we?"

"No," Abbott said, adding that he typically doesn't record interviews when the suspect's attorney is present.

Earhart asked if accused rapists typically confess while their attorney is present. Abbott said no.

Earhart asked if Abbott interviewed Tim Sypher. Abbott said no.

Earhart asked if Abbott interviewed Vinnie Tatum. Abbott said no.

Earhart asked Abbott what else he did, "other than accept the word of Rick Pitino that it didn't happen."

Abbott said he had obtained information from the FBI that made him decide to close the case.

"At that point, I didn't think I needed to spend any more time on it," he said.


Update: 3:54 p.m.
Media Room - 1st Floor
U.S. District Court Building
Moments ago, Assistant U.S. District Prosecutor John Kuhn rested the state's case against Karen Sypher. The defense is expected to begin calling witnesses tomorrow.
In-depth summaries of the brief witnesses who appeared today will be posted momentarily.


Update: 3:28 p.m.
Media Room - 1st Floor
U.S. District Court Building
Court is still in recess -- almost an hour and a half after the "15 minute break" was first declared. Rumor has it the defense is ready to cross examine Special Agent Steve Wight and the judge is about to rule on certain evidence they want to bring into the record.


Update: 2:03 p.m.
Media Room - 1st Floor
Moments ago, Special Agent Steven Wight of the FBI was recalled to the stand as a prosecution witness. Wight testified early last week about his involvement as the special agent assigned to investigate Karen Sypher. Wight testified that Rick Pitino told him in his initial interview (before they had determined that Lester Goetzinger was the author of the threatening calls to Pitino) that a man named Tom Gabel (SP?) made the calls. Pitino told him that this was based on a suspicion told to him by Jacob Wise, Sypher's son.

Wight also testified that, when they originally interviewed Goetzinger, he didn't know where the third phone call was made from, but he remembered in subsequent individuals.

An in-depth overview of his testimony will be posted later this afternoon.

The judge declared a 10-minute break about 10 minutes ago. Court is expected to resume momentarily.

Update: 12:51 p.m.
Media Room - 1st Floor
Sgt. Andy Abbott wrapped up his testimony shortly after 12:15. He told the prosecution that, during  the taped interview with Karen Sypher, he heard her sob but never actually saw any tears or redness of the eyes. Shortly after his interview, he said the Commonwealth Attorney's Office closed the case and never filed any rape charges against Rick Pitino.

Upon cross-examination, the prosecution blasted him for not handling Sypher's allegations "like any other case." Abbott testified that he was told by his superiors to handle the case himself, and not assign it to one of the eight detectives under him as would typically be the practice. He also admitted to only interviewing Sypher and Pitino -- that Pitino's interview was not recorded -- and that he took Pitino's word (and the word of the FBI) that no further investigation was warranted.

A detailed description of Abbott's testimony will be posted later today.

Video interview of Karen Sypher – Part II
(Continued from yesterday.)

This morning, jurors continued to watch a lengthy video interview of Karen Sypher conducted at Louisville Metro Police Headquarters by Sgt. Andy Abbott. The video resumes after Abbott returns to the room after a short break.

The room has white walls and gray carpet. Sypher is sitting at a folding table, across from Abbott. She is wearing a short, black skirt and some sort of black sleeveless top.

"It's hard not to tell every detail," Sypher says in the video. "I'm learning so many pieces of the puzzle every day."

"Let's go to the second incident," Abbott says, indicating the Sypher's second allegation of rape – the one she alleges took place at Tim Sypher's condo.

She explained her version of how she met Tim Sypher, after she had contacted University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino about the rape.

"Richard Pitino wanted me to meet with this man," she said, in order to, "get it taken care of…to abort the baby. To murder my child and his child. He wanted it over."

Sypher said she waited to contact Pitino until she had two ultrasounds.

"I waited to confirm before I contacted him at all," she said. "I wanted to just hear it from somebody and confirm it."

She added that she was, "still in shock."

She said she initially visited "A Woman's Choice," a local pregnancy center, 2-3 weeks after the sexual contact at Porcini.

"I was like, ‘What am I gonna do?'" she said. "I still don't know. I was still scared."

But after the two ultrasounds, she said she knew the truth about her pregnancy.

"That's when it hit me," Sypher said. "That's when I freaked."

She said in her initial contact with Pitino, "he told me not to go back to The Woman's Choice. Yes he did."

"So then he said, ‘I'm gonna have somebody contact you about…uhm…how to about this baby,'" Sypher told Abbott in the video.

"He didn't even ask for any DNA," she said. "He said we had to get rid of it."

Sypher then went on to describe her version of the meeting with Rick Pitino at Tim Sypher's condo.

She said she was supposed to meet Tim Sypher at the Dairy Queen on Brownsboro Road.

"He came up and rolled his window down and I was kinda sitting there scared to death," Sypher recalled in the video. "He had a big black car and he was smoking a cigar and he was looking right at me."

"He said, ‘Get in the car and I will take you to Rick,'" she said, adding that she was "very upset."

She told Sgt. Abbott that she declined this invitation and decided to follow behind Tim Sypher in her car. She said they drove a couple of blocks to his condo on the river.

When she got to the condo, she said Rick Pitino was already there.

"He had a glass of wine ready for me," she said. "He sent Tim upstairs. The whole time Tim was upstairs."

Sypher said she and Pitino began a discussion about the baby.

"I still sat on the end of the couch because I knew I could use the door," Sypher said.

"He never once said anything about the baby," Sypher recalled. "He looked me straight in the eyes and he said, ‘You do not have a choice in this matter.'"

Then she began to describe her allegation of rape.

"He grabbed me again and laid me down," she said.

In the interview, Sypher claimed the first rape (at Porcini) took 10 minutes, while this one took only five. (NOTE: Coach Rick Pitino in his testimony last week claimed he only had sexual contact with Sypher once, that it wasn't rape, and that it lasted no longer than 15 seconds.)

"Still – to this day – everything's lied to protect Rick," Sypher said, explaining that this was why she had waited so long to come forward.

"He can do anything," she said. "He's that powerful."

Of Tim Sypher, she said, "He never came down. He never came down."

She added that Tim Sypher knew what was going on.

Later in the interview, she supplied Abbott with medical records and recorded interviews.

"I've done all my homework," she said. "That's why I don't have T. Clay anymore."

The topic of the interview then turned to the abortion.

"Tim Sypher told me what to write down," she said, alleging that her now ex-husband made her falsify the date on her abortion documents.

She said he threatened her.

"Remember what size shoe you wear. That's what Tim Sypher said to me," she said, adding that he repeated these words over and over throughout their years as a married couple.

"That robot," she said. "He's a robot. I married a robot."

She said she had to get the abortion, "because I didn't want my children in concrete. I was scared to death."

Sypher then began to hedge on the date on which she first called Rick Pitino about the pregnancy, vacillating between Aug. 26 or Aug. 27, 2003.

"I don't know the exact date on that," Sypher said.

"Well, it's pretty important," Sgt. Abbott replied.

Abbott then raised the issue of the trip to Cincinnati. Given that there is a 24-hour consent law there, any legal abortion would require two visits.

"How many times did you go to Cincinnati?" he asked.

"I only went once, but you know, they said I went twice," Sypher replied.

When pressed on how she could have gotten an abortion after only one visit, Sypher said, "He does what he wants."

"This is what Tim and Rick had all set up," she said. "This is all set up. This was ready to go."

Sgt. Abbott then asked if she actually believed that Pitino had the abortion clinic on speed dial.

She replied that she believed Pitino and Tim Sypher orchestrated the whole thing.

"They told me what date to write, exactly," she said. "He told me everything to write…and he paid for it and everything."

Abbott then questioned why the abortion clinic would be willing to play along.

"This lady is gonna risk getting, uh, getting her license revoked for this?" he asked.

Later he told Sypher: "You're all over the board."

"I don't want to be all over the board," Sypher said. "It's true."

She added that she felt as though she was being needled on minutiae – that she was being forced to recall how many breaths she took.

"I don't think I'm being that extreme," Abbott said.

Abbott then went on to ask Sypher why she would have married Tim Sypher – the man she claims was involved in a plot to make her kill her baby.

"He'd hold me at night," she said. "He'd take care of me. He'd take care of the boys."

She said later: "I just want my life back, but it's such a high-profile situation."

Abbott then asked Sypher to recall details of the first rape again – the one at Porcini.

"Was that the first time that you had been there?" Abbott asked.

"That was the second time I'd been there," Sypher said. "Only the second time."

Sypher said she went there at the direction of the man from The Courier-Journal whom she claimed she had an interview with.

Abbott took another break and told Sypher he'd be back in a few moments.

"You need anything? Okay?" he asked.

"I need six years back," Sypher said.

A few moments after Abbott came back, Sypher told him about a comment Pitino made to her during one of their meetings.

"He looked at me and he said, ‘I'm sorry for everything I put you through. What can I do to make your life better?'"

Finally, she told Abbott:

"I can't quit holding it in anymore. It's time to tell the truth."

She added that she would "keep fighting" no matter what they do to her.

Abbott pressed her and asked her if everything was true.

"God strike all my babies down. Yes."

"He should be the extortionist," she said of Pitino. "He's a murderer and an extortionist in my eyes."

Sypher thanked Abbott for his help and said he was, "the one man I can trust."

As she was leaving, she told Abbott that, with all the media attention, she felt just like she did in high school when she was a cheerleader.

"Anytime that any case is in the media, there's the potential to taint the jury pool," Abbott warned.

Sypher said that, "I don't care, because I want him [Pitino] to know."

She asked if her makeup was smeared.

"No," Sgt. Abbott said. "I don't think you were crying were you?"

The video ended a few moments later.

Day 7
U.S. District Courthouse
1st Floor – Media Room
9:13 a.m.

Be careful who you talk to – especially when you're in a court building.

Anyone who has ever served on a jury knows that for two weeks or longer, you're not your own. Your rights are curtailed. Who you talk to and what you do is no longer your business. It's the business of the attorneys. It's the business of the judge. It's the business of the defendant.

Suppose you're on the jury for the murder trial of Person Y. Let's further suppose that you accidentally leave your jury badge back in the jury pool room, just before you take a brief stroll downstairs to the water fountain. On the way, you run into an attractive brunette in the hallway and she asks you, "What do you think about Person Y? He didn't kill anybody. It's obvious!"

Or let's say you don't talk to her at all. Let's say she's standing with a crowd of about five people – all with notebooks – chatting away at evidence you find out later was barred from the trial. Salacious evidence. Evidence that lodges itself in your brain like an anchor and makes you thing, "I can't believe this person did that. They MUST be guilty!"

You've been poisoned. Just like that.

You can no longer function as a unbiased juror. Your decision-making process is polluted. All the work, all the time, all the legal barriers that have been carefully put in place to protect your ability to decide this case free of prejudice have been breeched.

That's the world we live in as the media.

Now let me be clear: to my knowledge, no juror has been compromised whatsoever in this trial. I've never seen a juror in the hallways – and the good folks at the U.S. District Court have done a great job of keeping us separate. But I have run into Sypher and her entourage on several occasions (in the hallways, standing behind them in line at the court snack bar, etc.) Granted there's no danger in meeting the parties to the case, but if they're around, you worry that the jurors might be around too.

The same issue was present when we as the media covered the second David Camm trial in Boonville, Ind. (circa 2006). It, too, was a high-profile case. Boonville – charming as the town is – is not known for its size, and when court let out for lunch break, you didn't have a lot of choices when it came to nearby restaurants. Consequently, many of us ended up at a quaint little family restaurant within 45 seconds of the courthouse.

We'd walk through the doors, ready to munch on a grilled chicken sandwich, and be met by a sea of jury badges (because jurors always, always love grilled chicken sandwiches.)

Eventually we compromised. The good folks at the restaurant, eager for our business, put up curtain and created a special section just for jurors. They enjoyed their food – and we watched our conversation.

The bottom line is, whether you're a member of the media or not, watch what you say in or around the courthouse – any courthouse. You never know who may be listening.

Court begins at 9:30 this morning. The jurors are expected to continue watching the video interview of Karen Sypher.

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