Sypher trial Day 8 - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Sypher trial Day 8

By: Travis K. Kircher

Day 8
U.S. District Court Building
1st Floor - Media Room
4:39 p.m.

We have just been told by a U.S. District Court spokesperson that the jurors in the Karen Sypher trial are going home for the day, without a verdict. We'll have more information as soon as it becomes available.

James Earhart
Defense Closing

Shortly after lunch, James Earhart, Karen Sypher's defense attorney, rose to give his closing argument.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "enough is enough. Karen Sypher has been raped. She's been victimized. She's been kept under control, and now she's been villainized."

"This was probably the most ridiculous rape investigation I have ever heard of," Earhart added.

He accused police of "ignoring" her rape allegations and being too quick to take University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino's word that he didn't rape Sypher.

"We're supposed to be surprised that he denied it," Earhart said. "Really?"

"Can you imagine a rape investigation where there are two witnesses who are identified by the accuser and the accused and they are never interviewed?"

He went on to recast the case as a tale of money and power.

"College basketball is a multimillion-dollar industry," he said.

Earhart said Coach Pitino and the men who surround him are placed on a higher plane than ordinary citizens – one that makes them unreachable by law enforcement.

"They don't get treated like you or I," he said. "They don't live in our world."

Earhart vaguely referenced an incident that several witnesses testified to in which Glenn Hogan, one of Pitino's colleagues who was at Porcini's on the night of the alleged rape, lifted up Karen Sypher's skirt.

"That's how they behave," Earhart said. "We all laugh. They laugh."

"The rules don't apply to the privileged," he added.

Earhart said that, once Pitino learned of Karen Sypher's pregnancy, he and his circle embarked on a mission to "destroy," "humiliate" and "imprison" Sypher.

"I'm gonna tell you, Karen Sypher did not start this," Earhart said.

He later explained that he was there to make sense of complicated events.

"To be honest, before this trial started, I didn't even know what happened."

He began with the three threatening messages left on Rick Pitino's cell phone.

"I'll tell you what I don't need," he said. "I'll tell you what you don't have."

Earhart said he didn't need – and the jury didn't have – voice recognition results to determine that the caller on the third message was not the same caller who left the previous two messages.

"It is clearly not the same person," he said. "You don't need an expert to tell you that."

"This is going to lead us to unravel the entire scheme."

Then, in the middle of his closing arguments, he began to thank the jurors, adding that, "this isn't the most convenient thing" and told them that with their decision, they could "do something law enforcement didn't do."

He then returned to the topic of the voice messages.

"How could the FBI ignore the distinct differences in the voices?" he demanded. "They already made up their minds."

He said Karen Sypher had nothing to do with the voice messages. He said that the letters she sent to Pitino through her then-husband and Dana Kolter were not an attempt at extortion, but a simple response to an offer made by Rick Pitino to get her to lie for him.

Earhart then referenced the jury instructions and reminded the jurors that the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that Karen Sypher was not raped. If the jurors have any reasonable doubt that Sypher was telling the truth about the alleged rapes, then they have to find her not guilty.

Earhart blasted the prosecution for attempting to "make her look like a whore, so you won't care!"

He talked about Sypher's interview with the FBI and her, in his view, inability to come up with the name of the person who had been making the threatening phone calls to Pitino. He said she eventually came up with the name of "Lester Goetz" after two days of FBI interrogation.

"I wish we had a recording of that!" he said.

He said it was wrong to charge Sypher with lying over the incident.

"What kind of sense does that make?" he demanded. "She's trying to help!"

He began to cast blame on Rick Pitino, arguing that Pitino has never "provided truthful information to law enforcement" and he's never going to.

He turned the juror's attention to Porcini the night of July 31, 2009 – when "it all started."

"That night she meets Rick Pitino for the first time."

He blasted the testimony of the prosecution witnesses who said they were there that night, casting their testimony as "rehearsed" and arguing that "there is no way on the face of this planet" that they could possibly remember what Karen Sypher was wearing that night.

He said everyone in Pitino's circle that night had one goal.

"These peoples' position calls for doing whatever is requested or required to assist the team," he said, taking a quote from one of Pitino's books.

Earhart turned the spotlight on Vinnie Tatum – Pitino's personal assistant and designated driver on the night of the first alleged rape. He said that Tatum's bar receipt that contained "nothing on it but alcohol" was $38. He said that Pitino had a $316.24 bill that included food and alcohol.

He suggested that Tatum and Pitino were both drunk that night and called into question whether Tatum was even there, despite the fact that he testified as much last week. Earhart said Pitino would never have tolerated his designated driver abandoning him at the restaurant and if Tatum wasn't fired, it was only because he had been doing Pitino's bidding.

Earhart said the owner of Porcini, Tim Coury, (not Pitino) how to leave that night because Pitino already knew.

"If he already knew, then you know where that leads," Earhart said. "This has happened before."

Earhart then addressed Pitino's prior testimony that he stayed around at the bar past closing because he needed to finish his glass of wine.

"I submit to you that that defies logic," Earhart said. "He didn't stay there to finish his glass of wine. He stayed to continue his encounter with Karen Sypher. And he did."

"She blames herself for that as much as anyone else," Earhart added later, describing Sypher's mindset immediately after the incident.

He then addressed Sypher's claim that she was raped by Rick Pitino again at Tim Sypher's condo after she tells Pitino about her pregnancy. He recalled that Tim Sypher took her to an abortion clinic in Cincinnati and had a 21-minute cell phone conversation with her the night before.

"The 21-minute point was that she was going to get an abortion," Earhart said.

He also said the abortion clinic "backdated the forms two days so they could get it all in one trip," suggesting that Pitino arranged for Sypher to get around Ohio's 24-hour rule for all abortions.

Earhart also pointed out Tim Sypher's testimony that the abortion cost roughly $700, but cited other sources as saying it only cost $340.

"I wonder what the tip was for?" Earhart said, likely implying that Tim Sypher paid the clinic to rush the abortion through.

Earhart then brought up Tim Sypher's testimony that he and Karen Sypher often used the nicknames "Daisy" and "Hoke," in reference to the characters in the film "Driving Miss Daisy." Tim Sypher testified that the nicknames were a romantic reference to their trip to Cincinnati. Earhart implied that they were Tim Sypher's version of a veiled threat.

"How cruel is that?" Earhart said, adding that the names would have reminded Karen Sypher of the abortion and the alleged threats Tim Sypher made during the trip. "That's the kind of people you're dealing with here."

"Then we have the hidden bank account," Earhart said, referring to a college fund that was set up for Tim and Karen Sypher's daughter. Tim Sypher testified that the account was placed in Boston in his sister's name and he didn't reveal it to his wife because he didn't trust her.

Earhart raised speculation that Tim Sypher took $20,000-$30,000 out of his daughter's trust fund.

He then began to cast Tim Sypher as the true extortionist. 

He pointed out one of the threatening phone calls, in which he said Lester Goetzinger got one of the facts wrong. Goetzinger talks about a rape that didn't happen – one that was in the bathroom of Porcini.

"Who could have gotten that intimate detail wrong?" Earhart asked. "The only person who wasn't there. Tim Sypher."

He then brought the jury's attention to the recording of the first meeting between Karen Sypher, Rick Pitino and Tim Sypher in 2009 after the first threatening phone message was received.

Earhart mocked Pitino's testimony in which he was asked why he didn't contest the caller's accusation of rape during that meeting. Pitino had answered that he didn't contest it because he knew it wasn't true.

"What Rick Pitino told you is probably one of the most moronic responses to a question," Earhart said.

He adds that, "he tells her point blank that he wants to give her money."

Earhart then returned to his theory of Tim Sypher being the true extortionist, beginning in March 2009 when – Earhart claims – he got his wife to write Rick Pitino a ransom note.

"On March 6 [2009] he hunts her down…at the doctor's office where she's at the doctor with her mother," Earhart said.

Then, Earhart claimes, Tim Sypher demanded that Karen write the demand note, telling her that, "I have to have it before 4:00."

"Tim Sypher is broke," Earhart said, setting up his theory. "Tim Sypher has been Rick Pitino's dog for years…Tim Sypher has done more than his share for the team."

"Tim Sypher needs this list to take to West Virginia," Earhart continued. "He told you – she said she had no intention of putting this list together that day."

Earhart pointed out that – after Tim Sypher gave the note to Rick Pitino – their marriage improved, according to Tim Sypher's testimony.

"He's back to doing what he's done best: hoodwinking his wife," Earhart said.

Earhart added that it was Tim Sypher who went to Lexington to pick out new cars.

But when Dana Kolter wrote the letter to Rick Pitino indicating that Karen Sypher wanted out of her marriage, "his plan backfires."

Earhart said that, "Rick Pitino and Karen Sypher are victims of Tim Sypher's scheme," to get financial gain, "by using his wife."

He accused Tim Sypher of actually being the one to orchestrate the threatening phone calls with Lester Goetzinger.

"Somebody was pressuring him to do so," Earhart said.

Now, Earhart said, Tim Sypher's scheme had fallen apart and his ex-wife Karen Sypher was "charged with federal offenses against her attacker."

"Enough is enough," Earhart said. "Things don't make sense. When they don't make sense, you try to make sense of them."

He added that Tim Sypher's role as an extortionist makes sense.

"Tim Sypher walks out of here with a grin on his face while his wife faces charges," Earhart said.

He then closed his address to the jury.

"You're going to end this for her today, one way or another."

He then asked them to find her "not guilty" on all charges.


3:13 p.m.
Update - U.S. District Court
1st Floor - Media Room

The jury in the Karen Sypher extortion case is now deliberating.

James Earhart, Karen Sypher's attorney, gave his closing statement a few moments ago. An in-depth analysis of that will be posted shortly. That was followed by a brief rebuttal conducted by Assistant U.S. District Attorney John Kuhn.

At 2:51, the judge read the jury instructions to the jurors. At 3:05, the jury went to the jury room for deliberations. Four of those jurors were randomly picked to be alternates. 


11:47 a.m.
Prosecution's Closing Arguments

The defense rested its case this morning. Shortly thereafter, court reconvened for the prosecution's closing arguments.

The closing arguments were delivered by Assistant U.S. District Prosecutor Marisa Ford. A summation of those arguments follows.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury," Ford began, "I am always grateful to have the opportunity to give a closing argument."

She said, she was "grateful to you for your service" and for the opportunity to be a part of the federal justice system.

She noted that, as the prosecutors, it they bear the burden of proof when it comes to showing that Karen Sypher is guilty of the charges.

"That is a burden that we take on gladly," she said.

She recalled the opening statement of James Earhart, Sypher's defense attorney, when he said that this was a case about money, power and influence.

"This isn't a case about money, power and influence," Ford told the jury.

Instead, she explained, it was a case about a woman who wanted a "golden parachute" and "something for nothing." She said Sypher's behavior was "nothing but a pure shakedown" of University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino.

"That is conduct that our society does not condone," she said.

Ford then began to go through the litany of charges against Karen Sypher.

Count One was an extortion charge. Specifically, Ford said, it alleges that Sypher willingly caused another (Lester Goetzinger) to make threatening phone calls to Rick Pitino on Feb. 26-28 for the purposes of extortion.

"The essence of this crime is the threatening communication," Ford explained, adding that the state does not have to prove that the extortion was successful (i.e., that Sypher was able to obtain the money.)

Ford recalled Goetzinger's earlier testimony that "she had begged him and pleaded" that he make the phone calls "after she had oral sex on him." He said that their relationship had been "on again – off again" for 15 years.

Ford explained that the state does not have to show that Goetzinger had intent to obtain money for himself for this charge to stick.

"What's important is what the intent of the defendant was in this case," Ford said.

Ford touched again on Goetzinger's testimony that Karen Sypher was "pushing" him to make the phone calls and "keep the heat" on Pitino.

Ford said all the documents that were submitted into evidence would be brought back to the jury. Any recordings – either video or audio – that were played as evidence during the trial could be reviewed at their will.

She then brought up Count Two – also an extortion charge. This charge relates specifically to the demand note that Tim Sypher carried to Rick Pitino when he traveled to West Virginia. Count Three, an extortion charge, refers to the threatening letter that attorney Dana Kolter testified that he sent to Rick Pitino after Sypher had oral sex on him.

Ford said that for the first two charges to stick, the jury would have to determine that the threatening communications "moved in interstate commerce."

In the case of Count One – in reference to the threatening phone calls – Ford indicated that the jury should be able to do this with ease.

"He [Goetzinger] was calling Rick Pitino's cell phone," Ford said.

In each instance, she said, the messages were saved on a voicemail platform in Ohio – thus making the threatening communications a part of interstate commerce.

"The defendant does not have to have known anything about voicemail platforms," the prosecutor said.

As for Count Two, Ford noted that, "that note was carried by Tim Sypher to Rick Pitino in West Virginia."

Ford said that for Count Three, the jury does not need to prove interstate commerce.

"The charge in that case was that United States mail was used," she said, pointing out that his makes it a federal charge.

Of all three charges, Ford said, "you have to decide whether the defendant made these communications with the intent to extort."

She then addressed the issue of Rick Pitino's infidelity, imploring jurors to see the difference between what is morally wrong and legally wrong. Although Karen Sypher claims she was raped, Ford said that there was no evidence of that. There was evidence, however, of sexual activity between Sypher and Pitino at the Porcini restaurant on the night of July 31, 2003.

"There's no question about that," she said. "Rick Pitino admitted it…"

"You may not condone what Rick Pitino did," she continued. "I don't condone it…you may question it as a matter of morality. You may not be happy about it."

She reminded them, however, that it wasn't criminal – and extortion is.

"People make mistakes," she said. "They are human beings. Things like this happen."

The question, Ford said, is whether society should allow others to make unlawful monetary gain from those mistakes (meaning Karen Sypher.)

"She had information that was embarrassing to the man and she was shaking him down," Ford exclaimed.

She said Sypher "fabricated" her story about two rapes and a forced abortion. She pointed to interviews that she did with Fox 41 News and LMPD Sgt. Andy Abbott, as well as the letter that Dana Kolter sent.

"Each one of those statements is filled with inconsistencies and lies," Ford said.

Ford began to point out that Karen Sypher never mentioned the word "rape" in her original meetings with Rick Pitino. She told Pitino in Feb. 2009 that she had to have an abortion that was too late – that was four months into the pregnancy.

"The pregnancy at most was five weeks along," Ford said, recalling testimony from pregnancy center representatives. "That is a bold-faced lie."

She also pointed out that Sypher recorded her first meeting with Pitino in Feb. 2009, but not the subsequent two – in which Pitino claims she was making demands.

"That's oddly convenient," Ford said.

Ford then addressed what she said was Sypher's changing stories.

"From beginning to end, if you tell the truth, the facts always stay the same," she said, adding that if you lie, "the facts always change."

Ford said that even attorney Dana Kolter doubted Sypher's truthfulness when he wrote a demand letter for her to Rick Pitino. She cited his testimony that he made her swear to the truthfulness of her claims.

She said that the jury should not tolerate Sypher's lies and extortion attempts.

"That is not what we do in our society if you have a valid legal claim," she said.

She pointed out another alleged inconsistency between Sypher's story of rape and the witness testimony. In her police interview, Sypher claimed that Tim Coury, the owner of Porcini, walked up to Rick Pitino at the end of the evening July 31, 2003 and handed him a big ring of keys. She then claimed he told him to lock up – and Pitino later committed the rape.

Prosecution witnesses had testified that he never gave Pitino a ring of keys – that he simply told him to leave via a self-locking door when he was ready to go.

"He wouldn't even give his ring of keys to his own mother!" Ford said, recalling Coury's testimony.

Ford recalled Dana Kolter's testimony that Sypher told him it was snowing the night of the first rape – on July 31, 2003.

"We'd probably welcome some snow right now!" she mocked, adding that she can't remember the last time it snowed in July.

She pointed out that in the Fox 41 News interview, Sypher told reporter Candyce Clifft that Sypher was wearing black that night, but witnesses claimed that she was wearing white.

Ford then asked the jurors to consider what she called the "implausibility" of Sypher's claims.

"Karen Sypher wants you to believe that Tim Sypher was sent by Rick Pitino to marry him and keep her quiet," Ford said, adding that, in the same interview, Sypher said she wanted to marry him because at the time, he was being attentive and loving.

Ford told the jury that the truth was that, "Tim Sypher wasn't making enough money to keep Karen Sypher happy."

The prosecution pointed out that Tim Sypher bought Karen Sypher a home in Lake Forest that he couldn't pay for.

She said that Sypher had always kept her sexual encounter with Rick Pitino in her back pocket in case she needed it, noting that she held onto the recordings of Pitino's voice messages to her for six years.

Ford said that it was clear that Karen Sypher was "looking for a way out" of her marriage with Tim Sypher.

"When you talk about victims in this case, you have to feel for Tim Sypher," she said, adding that he was, "a man who – despite all adds – loves this woman…and his wife is blackmailing his boss."

She added that "Tim Sypher is already out of the picture" by the time he delivers the demand note to Rick Pitino in West Virginia.

Ford said Karen Sypher was "trying to set herself up with as much money as she can get."

The remaining charges faced by Karen Sypher relate to the issue of lying to the FBI.

Ford said that, when confronted, Sypher initially failed to reveal who had made the threatening phone calls to Rick Pitino.

"Finally, when the FBI confronts her with other information," Ford said, Sypher finally says "recognizes" the voice as that of a "Lester Goetz."

Sypher later led the FBI to Lester Goetzinger.

"The defendant lied," Ford said bluntly. "It is a crime to lie to federal agents when they interview you…her statement was false and it was material."

Ford recalled Goetzinger's testimony that Sypher "begged me to make those phone calls."

"Lester Goetzinger was a tool for Karen Sypher," Ford told the jury. "He thought that she was his friend and she used him to further this scheme."

"She did the same thing to Dana Kolter."

Ford then referenced explicit images that were shown to the court on Friday – particularly an image of Karen Sypher giving oral sex to Kolter. Ford said those pictures were shown, "not because we enjoy showing you evidence like that" but because it was "direct evidence" that Sypher had lied about her relationship with Kolter.

Ford told the jury that Sypher initially described her relationship to Kolter as, strictly business.

"She volunteered, ‘No, it's strictly business. Our relationship is strictly business," Kolter said of Sypher's statement to the FBI.

In fact, Ford said, Sypher and Kolter had a sexual relationship that dated back 4-5 years.

Ford said Sypher lied about not believing in abortion, citing pregnancy center records that said she believed in a woman's right to choose.

On April 17, 2009, Ford says, Karen Sypher is charged with extortion and lying to the FBI.

"It is only after that – it is only after she's charged – that she tells her ex-husband, Randy Wise, that ‘If I'm going down, I'm taking Rick Pitino with me.'"

At this point, Ford said, Sypher knew she wasn't getting any money from the extortion and "the jig is up."

Then, Ford explained, she went to the Louisville Metro Police Department and reported the rape allegations. Even Sgt. Andy Abbott, Ford said, felt like seemed like "retaliation."

Ford said it was retaliation for Rick Pitino "providing truthful information to the FBI."

"She's not interested in reporting rapes," Ford charged, adding that Sypher was "interested in damaging Rick Pitino" and "payback."

"I started by saying that this case really is about a woman who was looking for a golden parachute," Ford told the jury. "She was looking for a golden parachute."

Ford told the jury that this is not conduct that we as a society condone.

She asked them to return a verdict of guilty.

At this point, the prosecution's closing statements were concluded. The judge declared a lunch break.

The defense is expected to give their closing arguments at 1:00 p.m.

9:56 a.m.
U.S. District Court
1st Floor – Media Room

I just returned from the courtroom where we were expected to begin hearing a full day's worth of witnesses called by Karen Sypher's defense team.

The judge walked in and told the jury that "we're now at the stage" where we were going to hear from as many witnesses as Karen Sypher chose to bring forward.

Instead, Jim Earhart, Sypher's defense attorney, rose to say that no witnesses would be heard and the defense rested its case.

It was a shocking announcement that seemed to surprise everyone in the media. Immediately, most all of the media members left the courtroom and began reporting this back to their news organizations.

Karen Sypher will not testify. Her mother will not testify. Her son, Jacob Wise, will not testify. In fact, no one will testify on behalf of Karen Sypher.

The next phase in the trial is expected to be closing arguments on both sides.

Day 8
U.S. District Courthouse
1st Floor – Media Room
9:08 a.m.

Who is going to testify today?

As we reported yesterday, the prosecution has rested its case. The ball is now in the defense's court – or more specifically, Karen Sypher's. We're told we're going to get a "full day's" worth of testimony today. Rumor has it Sypher's mother will testify, as will – possibly – Jacob Wise, Karen Sypher's son.

The real question everyone is asking – the question we can't seem to get an answer to – is whether Karen Sypher herself will testify.

I'm not a lawyer, but I would imagine that the question of whether your client should get in the hotseat keeps many a defense attorney awake at night. Why put your client on the stand, when they're the one who has everything to lose?

There are pros and cons, depending on who your client is. If they are thoughtful, well-spoken, emotive, and believable, putting them on the stand can be the best decision you ever made. If they're likable enough, they may be able to convince the jury to forget all the prior testimony and join the "winning" team.

On the way to the courthouse, I tried to think of cases in the past when defendants rose to the challenge of the witness box.

During the Iran Contra scandal of the 1980's, many people wondered how Lt. Col. Oliver North would handle himself when he was brought forward to testify in his trial. No doubt, the enemies of the Reagan administration were salivating over the prospect of cross-examining North and tripping him up in a web of words.  But the defense managed to portray North as the quintessential military man – a patriot who was doing his best to follow the orders of his superiors. His demeanor, and his calm, matter of fact appearance on the stand won him public support. Regardless of whether the accusations against North were true or not, the decision to put him on the stand was a positive one. It may have swayed the case.

Karen Sypher is NOT Oliver North.

On the other hand, the choice to face a jury yourself can have disastrous consequences. True, you get the chance to tell your own story – in your own words – but any defendant who testifies has to face a rigorous cross-examination from the prosecution that is determined to put them behind bars. This may not be a bad thing to those who can hold their own, but those who crack under pressure – the ones who get tripped up in the own words, who buckle under salvos of rapid-fire questions that come one after, the other, after the other, can hang themselves on the stand.

Prosecutors leave you little time to think. Their questions come fast and furious – are often shouted at high levels – and they are hoping for an opportunity to make you stumble over your words.

And if you're not telling the truth, they're very, very good at finding out – and doing it in a very public, very painful way. As a member of the media said yesterday, it can be difficult to watch.

Is Karen Sypher telling the truth? You must make up your own mind – as a journalist, it's not my job to say. The question is whether she'll take the stand at all – either to tell a truth that for years has been protected by powerful men, or to weave a complex web of lies that has long entangled not just herself, but several of the people around her.

This is the dilemma the defense faces.

And yet it's really not their choice, is it? No matter how a defense attorney might beg or plead for his client to stay as far away from the witness box as she can, it all comes down to what Karen Sypher wants. The ball is in her court now. It's her show. She can either take the stage or send out one of the co-stars.

Anyway, that's what's been running through my mind this morning. If my clock is right, court should have begun 10 minutes ago. Check back later for more updates.

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