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10 Takeaway Lessons from the Trial of the Century


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After nine days of some of the strangest scenes a Federal Courthouse in Kentucky has ever seen, the Karen Sypher trial is over with a verdict of GUILTY on all six counts rendered against Sypher. I was mildly surprised that the Government was able to get a conviction on all six counts, as I thought reasonable doubt had been shown on a least a couple of the charges. But, it was inevitable that she would get convicted on at least one count and her general lack of credibility and inconsistency of stories likely made her attempt at an acquittal impossible. She now moves to the sentencing phase in a couple of months, where we will find out how hard the Judge ulitmately wants to be on her. She is facing 26 years, but she wont get 1/4th of that in the end. However she is likely to spend time in jail and her decision to not take the early plea bargain becomes even stranger.

With the trial now over, it comes time to review. We learned a lot of important lessons this week, some of which will stay with us for a long time. So without further ado, the Top 10 lessons from the great Sypher-gate in 2010.

1. Dont Let Principle Get in the Way of Rational Decisionmaking: If this trial taught us anything, it is that when we stand up for principle, especially in a court of law when our freedom is at stake, we are likely asking for trouble. Testimony was given on the stand that last summer after Sypher was charged, she was offered a plea for Pre-Trial Diversion, which would have allowed for no jail time and the conviction to be taken off her record after one year of good behavior. She turned it down. Then reports came later that she was offered probation as late as a couple of weeks ago, again with no jail time and again she turned it down. Sypher likely made those decisions because she thought herself innocent and wanted her side of the story told. However, when one has evidence against them, such principle may have no place in the rational analysis as to what decision to take. Sypher will spend some amount of time in jail, potentially a significant amount of time, all because of her desire to stand up for her “principles.”

2. Rick Pitino’s Story is Validated: Lets not mince words here…from a legal standpoint, today’s verdict is a huge win for Rick Pitino. In his closing argument, Sypher’s Defense Attorney went all-in and told the jury they could not convict Sypher unless they were certain beyond a reasonable doubt that Pitino did not rape her. By putting it in such unequivocal terms, the Attorney gave the jury the choice to choose to validate (or not) Pitino’s version of events at Porcini’s. They showed that on the rape issue, they believed Rick. The jury obviously believed Sypher was lying on that charge, and thus the other claims (such as for retaliation) could lead to guilty verdicts. This is a huge win for Pitino, who has maintained his innocence from the beginning of this entire ordeal. Sypher serving time in jail likely wont make up for the negative publicity he has endured, but he can always point to this verdict as validation of his insistence that he did not engage in a criminal act.

3. Rick Pitino’s Life Will Never Be the Same: It took two statements from Rick Pitino to guarantee that the Sypher trial will live with him forever. Had Rick never told us that it only took him “less than 15 seconds” to be with a woman and that he completed his act “down my leg”, the entire trial would have likely remained a local story, with very little long-term ramifications. However those two lines turned the affair from a “hard to cover” sports story to a national punchline. The phrase “less than 15 seconds” will be used for years for jokes about Pitino that will not only show up in opposing teams’ arenas, but on sports shows, blogs, etc. It didnt have to be like that…he could have avoided the comment because he wasnt asked directly about the amount of time the sexual encounter ended up taking. But he volunteered the information and from now on, “Quicky Ricky”, “Ricky Three Pumps”, “Gone in 15 Seconds”, “Sticky Ricky”, etc will follow Pitino everywhere he goes.

4. Avoid Testifying on a Witness Stand at All Costs: Part of Pitino’s problem is a difficulty that he ultimately could not avoid once this thing went to trial. If you are famous, you must do whatever you can to not have to testify on a witness stand. For a person like Pitino, who is used to dealing with the media and avoiding questions he does not want to answer, a courtroom is not a comfortable place. There is nowhere else that an individual can read for your motivational book, look you in the eye and then mock the lines that are written. Anywhere else, Pitino would belittle such a person and quickly walk away. In court, you just have to take it. The most striking visual of the whole trial may have been seeing Rick, sweating and emotional on the stand…vulnerable in a way we had never seen before. It is surely a setting he never wants to be repeated.

5. People Are Strange: I guess I knew this, but I may have never seen it with the same intensity that it hit me this week. Whether it was Lester and his belt buckle, the “Driving Miss Daisy” nicknames, the engagement in a cemetery or the entire lifestyle of Dana Kolter, we saw more Jerry Springer oddities than anyone could have ever imagined. I wondered throughout the trial, is it the case that this is a particularly strange set of people or is it the case that we could see such stories about everyone if their lives were opened to the degree that it happened for these people. Regardless, I know that I will never think about “ordering a coke at Mcdonalds”, “going to Cincinnati” or “playing golf at Vahalla” in quite the same way again, thanks to the festivities from the past two weeks.

6. Married, Middle-Aged Men Can be Pigs: Potentially my favorite part of testimony of the entire trial was that of the Porcini’s bartender who told us about Rick Pitino and his friends, the group she called “The Boys.” She testified that they came in 2-3 times a week, drank and paid each other’s bar tabs, talked to everyone at the bar and generally were “a lot of fun to be around.” We also learned that they liked to flirt and lift up women’s skirts, saying “what you got under there” in the process. “The Boys” were portrayed as a group of middle-aged married men, out on the town, doing what they wanted and cheating on their wives, all while having their conduct dismissed with a “Boys Will be Boys” mentality. It was all actually rather pathetic and universally the women in the room were sickened….well except Maggie the Golf Pro, who is still waiting on her invitation to Valhalla from The Boys.

7. We All Need a Friend Like Vinny: If any thought made me sad during this entire experience, it was that of Vinny…sitting in Porcini’s while his boss got it on with a woman that was not his wife, hoping not to hear anything and just drive him home, while deleting the mental image of the “15 Seconds of Glory.” Then when Pitino sneaks off, Vinny doesnt know what to do and he sits a full hour BY HIMSELF in an empty restaurant in the middle of the night, wondering if his boss will come back and unsure of what to do. That visual…of a lonely Vinny (who looks like Newman from “Seinfeld”), alone in the dark, questioning whether his boss will return and contemplating whether it was alright to leave…well it makes me sad. If you ever see Vinny out (and if you live in Louisville, you surely well), get the man a drink and hope that you have a friend like him. Loyalty such as that is hard to come by.

8. Rick Pitino Should Have Not Tried to Play Us All: I thought Pitino was a great witness. He was believable generally, helped the government’s case and he kept himself from falling into the Defense’s traps. But having said that though, his testimony about the night at Porcini’s contained some half-truths. He testified that Karen Sypher rubbed on his leg, but that he “didnt like it”…sure thing Rick. He said that he didnt plan on having sex with Sypher, but instead stayed after the bar owner left because he wanted to “finish his drink.” Sure thing Rick…after you and The Boys had $500 worth of alcohol, you stayed until AFTER THE BAR CLOSED AND WAS LOCKED UP, to finish that last important drink. When was the last time you have been to a bar where they let you stay with no one around? The answer is never….just admit it Ricky…you wanted some action and you wanted it at that moment. We know that, dont try to hide it.

9. Lester Needs a Reality Show: Of all the moments of the trial that were the most striking (excluding the oral sex picture), the best was the second Lester Goetzinger walked in the room. He looked like a late 50s “Bobby” from “King of the Hill” and he was quickly shown to be awesome. He went with a buzz cut, a belt buckle with his name on it and a true American tale of the LG&E gas man, who comes to do a job and ends up getting a different kind of job. He delivered turkeys, hams and potted meat at the holidays and made extortion phone calls when requested. He talked about kindling a romance over soda at McDonalds and falling for a “beautiful woman” as his rationale for most of his behavior. In short, he was awesome in ways that I didnt expect and his testimony may have been the highlight of the trial. You take OchoCinco or T.O with your reality program….I will take Lester and beat you any day.

10. The Judicial System Wins Again: Its easy to get down on our judicial system and many people do. Jokes are made about lawyers and those who are “too dumb to get out of jury duty” and we often assume that trials are crapshoots left to the whims of 12 random people. But I have always thought the opposite…when a jury sits down, I genuinely think the people involved try to do the right thing. The 16 people (including alternates) who sat for this trial, followed the testimony for two full weeks. I never saw any doze off and most took notes throughout. When they deliberated, they spent nearly six hours, testament to the fact that true discussions as to the case as a whole were taking place. In addition, the attorneys involved showed themselves to be more than competent. The US Attorney’s office wasnt great, but got their conviction by being exhaustive with its evidence. And Defense Attorney James Earhart did a masterful job taking a loser of a case and making a plausible claim for innocence. The entire thing was too long and one could argue all the charges were pointless…but it showcased once again that our judicial system, despite its faults, usually does its job.

And with that, the time to cover all things Sypher is over. I spent two full weeks on the Sypher beat and it was quite the learning experience. Nothing we have ever done had this kind of national following and it was a lot of fun to know that articles and tweets I wrote were read and enjoyed by so many. It combined two of my loves, sports and law, and I really appreciate all of you who read the coverage and told me you enjoyed it. Those comments meant a lot and made the whole thing worthwhile. Now onto the next thing, and who knows what it will be….

Article written by Matt Jones

29 responses to “10 Takeaway Lessons from the Trial of the Century”

  1. bleedblue23

    15th

  2. CalifCatFan

    Take a bow, Matt. Excellent work.

  3. echo 1

    Matt’s point #1 baffles me. She was almost certain to be convicted on at least a few of the charges. She was offered no jail time and her record wiped clean after one year and she turned it down to tell her side of the story? That in itself is monumentally stupid. Compounding her stupidity is the fact she never told her side of the story. The defense rested with no witnesses. I don’t get her strategy at all here. Apparently, her attorney convinced her that testifying would not help her, and rightfully so. I seriously think a mental evaluation is in order. That isn’t an insult to her, but rather a serious request.

  4. GoCats2010

    3. she is all kinds of mentally ill and you’re right, its not an insult, she needs help. With that said, she is getting what she deserves, and Rick is not.

    Tiger Woods is jealous of Rick…then again Tiger is relevant

  5. billwill431

    Sounds to me the only thing Pitino was guilty of is being a dreadful lover.

  6. charlesl22 Hard Hittin' Cat

    “Onto the next thing,” which will be the Football CATS going for double digit wins, homeboys!

  7. GoCats2

    #3 I disagree with point #1 for different reasons. If it wasnt for principles getting in the way of rational decision making then the two Marines in A Few Good Men would have never gone to trial and we would have missed out on one of my favorite movies.

  8. Calipari'sInYourEar

    HELP! Vote for a hot Kentucky chick for this months Triathlon Magazine Centerfold! Help a HottieCat out people! Tell a friend, tell the jurors!

    She’s listed as Erin D.

    Time is running out and she’s almost there…

    Vote for this girl ! Erin D. She a Cat fan!

    She has promised to pose for an “Ashley Judd” type pic in UK gear if she wins.

    Vote! Vote! Vote!

    http://triathlon.competitor.com/2010/07/photos/triathlete-coms-model-search%E2%80%94july_10967

  9. Quicky 3 Smacks

    I’ve been reading this site for about five years and this is the funniest line Matt has ever written:

    But he volunteered the information and from now on, “Quicky Ricky”, “Ricky Three Pumps”, “Gone in 15 Seconds”, “Sticky Ricky”, etc will follow Pitino everywhere he goes.

  10. BravoBigBlue

    The one thing I take away from all this is that Pitino’s massive ego took quite a hit on a national stage. For him to say what he said under oath is just unbelievable. No matter what he does in his career from here on, his admitted lack of sexual prowess (at least in this case) will stay with him forever. And that is justice IMO.

  11. duhville cat

    Matt Jones is the pitbull the Big Blue Nation needs in it’s backyard! Thanks.

  12. tyson

    did i miss the big Daniel Orton post that was supposed to be on here?

  13. Ken T. Ucky

    I hope this whole ordeal is a wake-up call to Pitino.

  14. Carolina Blue is past tense for CAROLINA BLOWS

    tyson–You missed nothing. Matt has said he will not post it until he gets a few facts straight. Same excuse for the Dodson situation.

    However, I am curious as to what facts he needs to get straight on his County by County in Kentucky piece he has been working on. We got something like Adair County and then the whole thing went to crap. I have been waiting on these for two years so the line starts behind me when it comes to posts.

    Carry on.

  15. tyson

    14 lol. i will patiently wait behind you. actually i’m not dogging matt, i was on vacation and wanted to make sure i didnt miss it. matt is stuck between trying to run a fan blog and being a real “journalist”, so i understand why he doesnt want to post certain things.

  16. underdog

    Point #1 is worded strangely. Normally “principle” refers to something that is “right”, “moral”, or “true.” And I don’t think Matt is saying don’t do what’s “right, moral, or true” if it means you’ll get a bad consequence.

    Perhaps he meant to say, “Don’t let pride or stupidity get in the way of rational decision making.” Now that makes sense, and seems to describe what happened here. However, she has nothing to point to that is right, moral, or true,” and thus this is a very poorly worded lesson.

    I would actually applaud somebody and hold them up as an example if they stood on principle, even though they might reap a bad consequence.

  17. SexnNursinHomes

    I’ve spent a few nights in jail. i’ll go on record and predict, “she ain’t gonna like it”

  18. GoCats32

    I’m starting to believe that all Karen Sypher really wanted was to hurt Pitino and the only way she could do that was to tell the world about the Porcini’s incident. She’ll probably write a book while in jail and Hollywood will come calling or her story will probably at least get a Law and Order episode. That will probably make her happy.

  19. ReleasetheSquirms

    13 – yeah, like to resign

  20. Mean Gene

    I wonder if Pitino will inconspicuously retire the number 15 from the U of L basketball program.

  21. jayj1

    This just in: Record number of male prison guards submit transfer request to the prison Karen Sypher expected to spend time in. When asked to respond…. one guard says, “It’s a long story.”

  22. bluebiscuit

    I’m thinking that Pitino doesn’t really care if there are a lot of bad jokes being made about him. I think he felt like he was the one on trial, for rape, and he was going to say whatever he could to make sure it didn’t sound like rape. Saying it lasted less than 15 seconds and ended up on his leg sure doesn’t give the impression of rape. So, maybe he is feeling like his less-than-flattering description was a good strategy. It sure worked better than Karen’s strategy, that’s for sure!

  23. duhville cat

    I was just watchin WLKY and they showed video of Karen Sypher waliking into the courthouse, to hear her verdict…… she was carrying a “Big Gulp”. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

  24. M. Vick

    So many unanswered questions about this trial….

    Who made the mysterious 3rd extortion call to Pitino?

    Did the Defense try (and fail) or just not try to dig up other extramarital flings that Pitino is purportedly infamous for? Would that have not helped the Defense’s case?

    How in the world could the Defense just rest, not calling anyone else???

    And what was Sypher’s TRUE motive? Will we ever know, or is she just too batshit crazy to ever believe a thing that comes out of her mouth? Was there not any one person who she truly confided in with why she’s acted in the ways she did? What a sad, trainwreck of a person.

  25. ReleasetheSquirms

    24, shoulda called the other ladies he’s had in the past onto the stand. There’s some folks here in town that knows all about Rick’s dirty laundry that could have been put on the stand, some know of NCAA violations, now that would have been shattering news had they been put on the stand.

  26. Talent_Evaluator

    Again, excellent work covering the trial Matt. I really enjoyed reading your posts.

    Not to support Karen Sypher, but I must say that I was surprised the govt. obtained convictions on all three extortion charges. From everything I read, it didn’t appear that the govt. proved the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Especially when you consider Lester’s credibility and the fact that Pitino himself is heard on the tapes asking Karen several times to tell him what he can do to make her life better
    (actually I think Pitino lied during his testimony on this point when he said he meant to get her counseling). Also, Tim Sypher testified that he requested Karen to make a list of demands. Therefore, I can’t believe the jury returned a guilty verdict on the extortion charge dealing with the letter. I think the average person would have reasonable doubt.

  27. pccatsfan

    26) I agree the defense tried to instill some doubt, but I don’t agree they presented anything to prove it was a “reasonable doubt”. I felt it was pretty weak. And the 12 average people who decided the verdict felt the same way. Plus, they heard 100% of the testimony, while most of us only saw Matt’s excellent summaries.

  28. Indycatfan

    Sad….Sad….Sad. K.Sypher’s attorney I think dropped the ball by not calling anyone to the stand. BUT most of all by telling her to go with the plea and be happy with it. If he actually did try to sell to her to go with the plea and of course we know she didn’t, the government had to hand over the witness list and he had to KNOW that most of those guys got hummers from her, unless she acted like she didn’t know what role they would’ve played in the trial. On this she was a human sperm deposit and depicted as such. They called according to lawdog, guy after guy who more or less said she was of questionable character, but probably knew that if they’d try to bring up Ricky’s other Quickies it would’ve not pertained to the trial. Now she’s going to do time, my guess is 2 to 4 years, and LiL’ Ricky’s black eye to last at least that…..Sad indeed.

  29. Bubba in Glenpool

    Good work Law-dog.