Sypher trial Day 9 - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Sypher trial Day 9

By: Travis K. Kircher
tkircher@fox41.com 

Final Thoughts: What I Learned at the Karen Sypher Trial

As I write this, it's 10:40 on the morning of Thursday, Aug. 6, 2010. I'm sitting in the courtroom. It's empty, save myself and four other journalists. They jury is still deliberating, and as we're waiting patiently for them to return, I figured I'd take a few moments and share my thoughts, for what little they're worth.

It's strange sitting in an empty courtroom – a courtroom that is now devoid of all the key players who have populated it for the past two weeks or so. Looking at the front of the courtroom is like watching an empty stage. The judge's seat is empty. There is no witness in the witness chair. No attorneys. No defendant. Even the jury – that powerful group of anonymous men and women who've sat choir-like throughout this whole ordeal – is missing.

Maybe it's more like a ghost town than an empty stage.

The room is cold – the air conditioners in this courtroom, when they're working, are powerful. In fact there are a couple of seats in the reserved media rows that we journalists have been specifically avoiding because they're positioned just so you get the frigid North Pole draft.

But regardless, this is the perfect setting to recollect my thoughts of what I've learned in the past two weeks. I've just had two doughnuts. I got my coffee fix. And the room is fairly quiet, save only for the low murmur of a couple of journalists discussing the impact of sexual indiscretions on the lives of public figures.

This trial has taught me several things – some about my own profession, some about life in general, and some about our legal system. Perhaps I think much more of myself than I should, but I'd like to share them with you. If they help you, take them for what they're worth. If it's absolute drivel, feel free to click on something else. You won't offend me at all.

(Note: For what it's worth, I'm now blogging from inside the media room.)

Anyway, here are my words of wisdom.

1)      Fear the witness box. If you are called as a witness in a trial, be afraid. Be very, very afraid. It doesn't matter if you're the one who faces charges or not. Either the prosecution or the defense – one of the two – can dredge up every embarrassing moment of your life for public scrutiny and you have to answer truthfully about it. I don't know if Tim Sypher ever realized that the details of his bad marriage would be fodder for the local talk shows or not, but they were. Other witnesses had to bare their own personal demons on the stand. (Goetzinger? Fields?)

 Telling the truth on the stand can be extremely terrifying. The only thing more terrifying? Lying on the stand. Stay away from the witness chair for as long as possible.

2)      Cell phone records are permanent. They never, ever go away. Remember that shady phone call you made five years ago? The one that only lasted about two minutes? The one that nobody can find because it was so brief and it happened so long ago?

Well, they can find it. And if you wind up in the witness box, there's a chance you'll have to tell a jury about it someday. It only took up a few sentences of my blog, but on the second day of the trial, we heard from Eric Tyrell, a supervisor in the legal compliance department for Spring Nextel Communications. He testified that his only job – his only job – is traveling around the country from courtroom to courtroom authenticating cell phone records used in various trials.

And it's not just cell phone records that can be dredged up. There are also bar tabs, land line calls, restaurant receipts, phone bills, abortion records, pregnancy tests – just about any record you think is private can be brought before complete strangers. And time never, ever hides it.

3)      The federal court building closes at 5:00. Make sure you have your car keys. I decided to mention this because I learned it the hard way. Yesterday – when the temperature was 105 degrees – I walked back to my station only to realize that I'd left my keys here in the media room, leaving me unable to access my car or my apartment. Thankfully, a kind representative of the U.S. Marshal's office was able to make some phone calls and they let me back in to retrieve them. The place closes at 5:00. Just a word of warning.

4)      Beware of who you associate with. Obviously the jury is still deciding whether Ms. Sypher is an extortionist or not, but the prosecution's version of events (the truth of falsity of which I'll set aside at the moment) has reminded me as a single man to be careful of the women I choose to have relationships with.

Their version of Ms. Sypher – the prosecution's version – reminded me of a girl I knew in college. I was sitting in the back of one of those big auditorium classes on the first day of the semester, when this attractive gal sat right next to me and started talking. She was beautiful, friendly and for three months, she stole my heart away.

It wasn't that we did anything inappropriate, but we would flirt. But over time I learned that the relationship always came with a price. She wanted to take my text book on the night before the big test. She tried to get me to do her work for her in our group project. When our group complained that she wasn't pulling her weight (due to her partying), she wanted me to cover for her. Of course I would protest, but she would always turn on the charm, and I – naive as I was at the time – always fell for it.

I learned better when, after the last day of class, she quit returning my phone calls.

The point is, there are true friends, and there are people who will use you. Learn to know the difference. If you don't, you may wind up on the witness stand.

5)      You don't have to tell everything. Wanna know a secret? Sex trials are the least pleasant trials for me to blog. Honestly, I'd rather cover murder trials than a sex trial because of all the salacious details that emerge from the latter – and the dangerous tightrope that needs to be walked when reporting them.

More than once during this case, I've spoken with fellow reporters who have struggled with how to report this story. On the one hand, you don't want your news report to read like a porn novel in some sleazy adult bookstore. On the other hand, you don't want to purposely omit details that would cheat one side or the other out of making their case to the public at large.

I know of reporters from other media outlets who were chastised by their bosses for being crude when they were simply relaying facts that were important to the case.

The standard I adopted was simple: you don't have to know everything. There were things that were testified to in court – salacious details – that you never heard about, simply because they weren't important to the case. They served no purpose other than to make people blush and to provide more fodder for the gossip lines. I think the media did a fairly good job at walking this fine line.

6)      The chocolate chip cookies in the Snyder Snack store on the basement floor of the courthouse are awesome. Seriously. Try ‘em out if you're ever there.

7)      We have the best legal system on the planet. This is the first case I've ever covered in federal court, and I am – as always – impressed by our legal system. I'm impressed that our fate is decided by a jury of our peers – not a judge or a magistrate. I'm impressed by the systematic, methodical way we protect of the rights of the accused. I suppose I'm impressed by the pomp and circumstance of it all as well.

And this would be an opportune time to send a shout-out to all the folks at federal court who helped us out in the media. The staff here is very professional and went out of their way to help us out.

I only have one issue: and it had nothing to do with them. It's time to allow electrical devices in federal court. I can understand the ban on cameras and whatnot, but I'm a blogger and a blogger needs his laptop. Hopefully, the feds will reconsider the ban on electronic devices and allow for some compromise. (Maybe allow laptops? Cell phones? Not cameras. They would put me out of business.)

My last point concerns Karen Sypher herself, as well as the star witness of this trial: Rick Pitino.

By now, I've learned the verdict in this case (I'm writing this conclusion several hours after I started it.) A jury has convicted Karen Sypher on all six counts. They have told us their conclusion that she is both an extortionist and a liar.

Rick Pitino, by his own testimony, is a married man who has admitted to having sexual activity with a woman who is not his wife.

So many people I've talked to recently have told me that no one in this case comes out looking good. This is true. For months, we've scrutinized this pair in the vicious, unmerciful spotlight of public opinion. On the Web I've seen brutal epithets hurled at both of them ("floozy" and "philanderer" are some of the nicer words that have been used.)

When we as a society see people fall, what do we do? It's one thing to condemn immoral acts – any decent society should condemn them. It is quite another to take pleasure in watching the guilty fall. You can take relish in and laugh about the seedy details of the case, or you can remember that these are real people, learn lessons from the whole ordeal and treat them all with respect. I have done both, but I'm trying to do more of the latter, because – just like the rest of us – what these people need more than anything is our prayers.

Finally, I'd like to thank all of you who have been readers. Thanks for the encouraging e-mails. Your readership is always appreciated! Perhaps I will run into you in some future courtroom. Hopefully neither one of us will be defendants.

This concludes the final entry of the Fox 41 Karen Sypher trial blog.

Travis K. Kircher
tkircher@fox41.com

Day 9
THE VERDICT
U.S. District Court Building
1st Floor - Media Room

I've just returned from the courtroom where they read the verdict in the Karen Sypher trial.

By now you likely know the news: at roughly 2:00 this afternoon, Karen Sypher was found guilty on all six federal counts against her.

The marshal in the room warned us that, "Nobody is going to be allowed to leave the courtroom until the jury leaves the courtroom."

Karen Sypher walked in with her son, Jacob Wise trailing behind her. As usually, she carried a large, black purse. She was also wearing what appeared to be a long, black sportcoat. She also seemed to be wearing a type of skirt with frills at the bottom.

It was completely silent in the courtroom when she arrived.

The jury was seated in the courtroom at 1:55, and the usual, "All rise for the jury, please" was uttered. Immediately, the judge called both attorneys to the bench and they talked for a few brief moments under the sound shield.

The judge then asked for the jury foreman -- a man, with the designation "Juror Number 132."

He handed over the verdicts and they were read by the court clerk. Unanimous guilty verdicts, all six counts.

During the reading of the verdicts, Sypher appeared stoic. I did not see any reaction from her face.

The judge asked if the jurors needed to be polled. (This is an procedure where each individual is asked to affirm that they agree with the verdicts.) The prosecution did not ask for a poll, but the defense attorney James Earhart did. Each juror was polled and they all said they agreed with the verdicts, each saying, "Yes, your honor."

At this point, the judge thanked them for their service, adding that, "I hope that you found this to be an interesting case," and noting that the Karen Sypher trial was "a little different" than what they get in federal court.

"You'll not be called back to serve unless you would like to," the judge said.

He then broke the news to the jurors that their names will be released to the public, because, "we in this country have open trials and not secret trials."

He told them that they may be contacted by the media and asked to comment on the trial -- and while they were free to say what they wished, they did not have to speak to the media if they didn't want to.

"This case was covered by the media," the judge said. "We have some newspaper articles you may want to look at now that the case is over. We had someone save them for you."

The jurors were discharged from service at 2:06. Their role in this trial is now over. They left the courtroom shortly thereafter.

A sentencing date was set for Karen Sypher of Oct. 27 at 10 a.m.

The prosecution moved to detain the defendant immediately -- in other words, have Sypher taken directly to jail. The two attorneys were asked to approach the bench and discuss the measure.

Sypher seemed to perk up at this point, and become more attentive. As her immediate fate was being decided, she could be seen whispering to supporters. At one point, she motioned to her son, Jacob Wise, to keep his chin up and his head high.

The judge ultimately decided that she would continue under the present terms and conditions of her bond -- that she would not be taken to jail before her sentencing.

Moments later, the judge asked if the attorneys had anything further to discuss.

"Nothing further from the United States," said Assistant U.S. District Prosecutor John Kuhn.

"No sir," said defense attorney James Earhart.

Court was adjourned -- for the last time -- at 2:15 p.m.

As Jacob Wise, Karen Sypher's son, walked out of the courtroom he yelled, "Thanks for taking my mother away guys!" Then he clapped several times, sarcastically.

The Karen Sypher trial has now come to an end. In a few moments, I'll be sharing some final thoughts on the trial.

U.S. District Court Building
1st Floor – Media Room
9:20 a.m. 

It's Day 9 of the Karen Sypher trial, and for the first time in the past week-and-a-half, it feels like we have nothing to do.

That's not the case, of course. Beginning at 9:30, the jurors will begin deliberating again. As we reported yesterday, the jurors got the case at approximately 3:10 yesterday afternoon and deliberated about 90 minutes before going home for the day.

Once 9:30 hits – that's just six minutes from now as I write this – we'll be on pins and needles. Every media outlet will be fighting to be the one to get the verdict up on the Web first. There will be television news cut-ins.

The difficulty, of course, will be getting news of the verdict out of the courtroom. If you've been reading this blog long enough, you know that no electronic devices – not so much as a pager on silent mode – are allowed in that courtroom. Thus, every online news outlet and television news station is trying to come up with their own system for getting word to the outside world quickly.

What will the jury do? That's up to them. How long will the jury take? That's up to them.

They have six charges to decide guilty/not guilty on:

Count 1: Extortion. Karen Sypher is charged with willfully causing another person to transmit threatening communications for the purposes of extortion. (Specifically, this relates to the allegation that Sypher got Lester Goetzinger to leave threatening messages on University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino's cell phone.)

Count 2: Extortion. Karen Sypher is charged with willfully causing another person to transmit threatening communications for the purposes of extortion. (Specifically, this relates to the allegation that Karen Sypher got her husband, Tim Sypher, to deliver a ransom letter to Pitino.)

Count 3: Extortion. Karen Sypher is charged with willfully causing another person to transmit threatening communications for the purposes of extortion. (Specifically, this relates to the allegation that Karen Sypher convinced her attorney, Dana Kolter, to write a letter to Pitino with the intent of extortion.)

Count 4: Lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Karen Sypher is charged with making false statements to the FBI – specifically her alleged lie that she did not know that Lester Goetzinger was the man making the threatening phone calls to Pitino.

Count 5: Lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Karen Sypher is accused of lying about her relationship with Goetzinger when she told FBI agents it was purely professional. (The prosecution produced photographs allegedly showing Goetzinger and Sypher engaging in sex acts.)

Count 6: Retaliation against a witness in a federal investigation, for going to the police after she was charged with the federal charges and accusing Rick Pitino of rape.

It's now 9:47 and I'm told jurors were still arriving a few minutes ago. The attorneys are not expected to arrive until 10:00.

Our colleague from The New York Post brought doughnuts to the media room. I felt it was important to note.

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