Defense rests; jury begins deliberating

Updated: August 4, 2010, 5:54 PM ET
Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A jury deliberated for nearly two hours Wednesday but went home without reaching a decision in the case of a Kentucky woman accused of demanding millions from Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino to keep quiet about their sexual tryst.

[+] EnlargeSypher
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeThe prosecution said that Karen Cunagin Sypher was looking for a "golden parachute" when she demanded $10 million from Rick Pitino in exchange for keeping quiet about their sexual tryst.

Karen Cunagin Sypher, 50, has pleaded not guilty to extortion and other charges. She did not testify in her own defense, and her attorneys rested their case without calling any witnesses. In closing arguments, they claimed her ex-husband tried to extort the coach.

Jurors will resume discussions Thursday morning.

If convicted, Sypher could face up to 26 years in prison, though under sentencing guidelines, she would likely receive a lighter term.

Assistant U.S. attorney Marisa Ford told jurors that Sypher was "looking for a golden parachute, something for nothing" when she demanded $10 million, college tuition for her children and her house paid off in exchange for her silence about having sex with the coach, a married father of five, at an Italian restaurant in July 31, 2003.

"This was nothing more than a pure shakedown of Richard Pitino," Ford said.

Sypher's attorney, James Earhart, said his client's ex-husband and longtime Pitino aide Tim Sypher was at the center of every criminal act and used his then-wife to get back at the coach he worked for since 1996, Earhart said.

"Rick Pitino and Karen Sypher are victims of Tim Sypher's scheme," Earhart said.

Tim Sypher has not been charged with any crime.

Although she didn't testify, jurors have heard from Karen Sypher in the form of several hours of videotaped interviews.

In interviews with WDRB-TV in Louisville and police, she claimed Pitino raped her after the restaurant Porcini emptied.

"It didn't last long. It seemed like hours for me," said Sypher, appearing to cry, although no tears were visible on the video. "All he said was shut up, shut up and be quiet."

Ford said the interview with the television station in April 2009 and the one with police a few months later were riddled with inaccuracies. Sypher also lied in several FBI interviews, Ford said.

Multiple witnesses have contradicted Sypher's stories -- differing with her account of what she wore, what time of day the sex took place and even the weather outside the restaurant.

"When you're not telling the truth about something, you can't keep your facts straight," Ford said.

Once the FBI considered her an extortion suspect, Sypher twice called media outlets to accuse Pitino of rape before going to police, Ford said. The rape claim was made in retaliation for Pitino reporting the extortion attempt to the FBI, Ford said.

The star of the prosecution's case was Pitino. He told jurors he had an "unfortunate" sexual encounter with Sypher and that he felt "sick to my stomach" when the extortion calls started Feb. 26, 2009. Pitino received two calls that day and a third a couple days later.

"I could never rape a woman or be physically harmful to any woman at any time," Pitino said.

Earhart told jurors Pitino wasn't truthful about what happened and said the coach didn't deny raping Sypher at a meeting with her on the day the extortion attempts started. Earhart said Pitino gave "one of the most moronic responses to a question" when the coach said he didn't deny raping Sypher at the meeting because she knew it wasn't true.

On the night of the sexual tryst, two restaurant patrons told jurors Sypher first approached Pitino, forcing her way into his circle of friends, and that the two were hitting it off as the night went on. Pitino testified that the sexual encounter lasted 15 seconds.

About four weeks later, Sypher approached Pitino, saying she was pregnant and he was the father, which the coach denied.

Sypher said she had no health insurance, Pitino said, so he offered $3,000. He claimed he thought the money was for counseling and medical needs but Sypher later said she had an abortion, Pitino said.

Tim Sypher drove her to Cincinnati to have the abortion.

The two became romantically involved and married in April 2004. They are now divorced but locked in a legal battle over custody of their 5-year-old daughter.

Three men have testified to having affairs with Karen Sypher while she was married to Tim Sypher. Lester Goetzinger admitted making the extortion calls in exchange for sexual favors from Sypher. He reached a deal with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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