It was an unbelievable day once again in Federal Court in Louisville. We had the first comments by Rick Pitino, a huge contingent in the gallery that left the place standing room only and the return of the 7 year old sketch artist. All in all, a successful day for our judicial system. In all honesty, today was one of the more surreal days that I can remember. To watch Rick Pitino, a hero of my youth, in this situation and talking about these topics…well it almost boggles the mind. The morning was filled with three witnesses, but the afternoon belonged to Pitino, who finished direct examination but will face cross-examination tomorrow. Because Rick was the star and the story, we will start with him and then hit the morning witnesses (who by the way, provided craziness as well) a bit later tonight. Pitino testified about the Porcini’s incident twice, but we will put it all together to make the events chronological. Here we go, the facts as shown today:
— Pitino walked into the courtroom just after lunch in a red tie and with obvious stress on his face. At first he was understandably nervous, but over time settled in. The first ten minutes of questioning was on Pitino’s history as a basketball coach, the fact that he won a lot, etc. The AUSA handling the questioning didnt know basketball and it showed, and Rick was able to use his coach speak several times. In talking about a season, he began, “you all start with the same dream.” It almost made me want to go buy his book.
— They quickly got into the night in question, July 31, 2003. Pitino said he met Sypher at the bar when she came over and asked him to tell her son Happy Birthday on the phone. He did and he didnt see her again until later in the night. With the restaurant shutting down, he purchased Sypher a drink and they began to talk at the bar. The owner of Porcinis came over, told Pitino he was leaving and how to get out the front door, which would lock when he shut it. Pitino claims he thought that they had the restaurant to themselves and that Vinny, his driver, had left.
— Pitino then said when asked about the sexual encounter, “unfortunate things happen.” They had a drink and moved to a booth just behind the bar. Pitino said, “one thing led to another” and then she “opened up my pants.” She asked Pitino if he had a condom and he said no. She said “well you have to pull out because I am fertile.” Pitino said this concerned him, but he continued and the entire sexual encounter “took less than 15 seconds.” He said he knows that he did not ejaculate inside of her. “We talked, I pulled my pants up an we left a short time later.”
— Sypher then drove Pitino home because he thought Vinny Tatum had left. The drive was pleasant and Sypher “was in a good mood, talking non-stop.” They sat out in his driveway for 5-7 minutes and Pitino said she asked for basketball tickets. Pitino was asked what she was wearing that night and he said a mini-skirt, adding “she didnt wear anything but miniskirts”, even in the winter.
— Three weeks later, Sypher called and told Pitino she had missed her period and she was worried because she was usually very regular. Pitino said he did not believe it was his child, thought he had been set up, but recommended that she get counseling. She then told him that she had no health insurance and he asked how much one needed for health insurance and she said $3,000 and he agreed to get her the money.
— They met in a condo and discussed whether she would have the child. Pitino then said he “made arrangements” with Tim Sypher to find a place for her to have an abortion if she chose to have one. Pitino said he found a place in Cincinnati but didnt know if she would end up having the abortion. A series of voicemails were then played where Rick called Sypher six times over the next 3-4 days to see her decision. One of his messages said this:
This is not something I can decide on. I think the best thing in all seriousness, is to go through with it but tht has to be your call….I am a high profile person….but the decision has to be yours and the way you put it, put it behind us and then move on…..you just let me know what you are going to do.
— It seemed from the tapes that Pitino wanted her to have the abortion, but he often repeated that the decision was hers.
— Much was made about how Pitino had the “best team” in 2009 and on February 26, he was returning from a recruiting trip in Vegas when he got his voice mails from Lester. At the time he “got sick to [his] stomach” and listened again. “I felt threatened and frightened…I knew what was about to happen.” He says he also knew that by the way the phone caller pronounced Cincinnati, he must be from Kentucky.
— Pitino said initially he thought Sypher was the person behind the lies, but over time she convinced him otherwise. Pitino called Tim Sypher and told him to bring his wife to the office and they had to meet. This meeting was recorded, and the 45 minute tape was played in court.
— At the meeting, Sypher suggested that it was potentially Rick who had leaked the information himself, asking if he had done it when he was drunk. Pitino noted that the caller knew details that no one else knew and kept asking who could this be. Sypher continued to insist she did not know.
— What followed was 45 minutes of the most mind-numbing conversation imaginable. Sypher was upset and frantic, and Rick was obviously nervous and trying to find out information. Most of the conversation isnt worth recounting, but a couple of interesting moments:
1. Sypher tells Rick that she has “been through hell” and Rick says that he knows she has and asks multiple times, “what can I do to help you?” This theme continues throughout.
2. Sypher asks Pitino how she is supposed to “live with Cincinnati” and says that “I pray to God that I dont go to hell” for having the abortion. Pitino replies, “you are not going to hell.”
3.: Karen Sypher and Tim Sypher then begin to argue about their marriage and Rick Pitino channels his inner Dr. Phil, trying to help them work it out and saying “you two love each other.” This was the one part where Rick sounded nervous as he seemed to see that if they separated, problems could occur.
4.: Pitino acknowledges that because of this, “I may have to resign this job.”
5. : Pitino continues to try to comfort Sypher, asking repeatedly what he can do help her or “make your life easier.” He says “you are not an outcast, you’re part of our family.” He tells Sypher, “I can make your life better, but I can’t make certain things go away”, referring to her guilty from the abortion.
6.: Pitino tells Sypher for the first time that he has set up a college fund for her daughter from Christmas bonus money. Sypher didnt know about this at the time.
7.: Pitino tells her they have to be careful and says, “This guy can go to the front page of the Louisville Courier Journal and ruin all of our lives.”
— Throughout the entire tape, the word “rape” is never mentioned by Sypher. Pitino says after the conversation, “I honestly didnt think she knew who made the phone calls. I stayed up all week trying to figure it out.” This occurred during the last week of the Big East regular season.
— Pitino then volunteers his assessment (which he did throughout his testimony, sometimes without questions even asked) of the situation and notes that she never mentioned rape. “You dont give someone a ride home, talk basketball, be cordial, sit in the driveway, etc and it be rape.” He says the rape charge is “the direct opposite of truth. I would never rape a woman., I could never be physically harmful to a woman.”
— Pitino ended up meeting with Sypher three times, beginning February 26, 2009. At the end of the second meeting, Sypher mentioned that if Pitino wanted to help her, he could get her a car, her son a car, a house in Lake Forest and money. He said he couldnt do that, but he could get UL to give Tim Sypher a raise. She then stopped crying, looked at Pitino and asked why she wasnt given a pocketbook last Christmas by him, like the other wives of the basketball staff had been.
— On March 1, 2009, Sypher calls Pitino and leaves a voice mail asking when she will get all the things she has asked for. On that same day, Pitino gives the alleged extortion messages to his lawyer in Lexington, who says that Rick needs to go to the police. Pitino says that because the NCAA Tournament is coming up, he wants to wait until after March Madness before talking to the police. Attorney also advises he stop talking to Sypher and he does.
— March 6, 2009, he arrives at hotel in Morgantown, WV for game against WVU and is given a letter by Tim Sypher in which Karen demands a car for herself, a car for her son, a house, $3,000 a month for bills and $75,000 after he leaves Louisville. If Pitino gives her that, she “will protect Rick Pitino’s name for life.”
— A few days later, Pitino gets a call from Sypher’s mother, wondering why her grandson hasnt gotten his car yet. She then says, “we know people in high places also.” Pitino then gives Tim Sypher $10,000 of his Big East Championship bonus money to purchase the car for Karen’s kid…a fact that was skipped over after said, but is sure to be a big part of the cross-examination tomorrow.
— On March 22, 2009, Pitino is sent a letter from Dana Kolter, an attorney representing Sypher who goes into detail about the rape claims made by Sypher. He says that Pitino “forced your sexual avances upon her” and then had “an abortion that she feels was forced on her.” He then requests an immediate mediation and gives Pitino only 2 days to respond or they “will seek closure one way or another.”
— Soon thereafter, Pitino goes to the police and meets with the Kentucky Attorney General, who suggests he meet with the FBI. All of this goes down during the NCAA Regional, of course the one the Cards later lost to Michigan State.
— Lawyers representing Pitino meet with Kolter and Sypher, and report to Rick that Kolter and Sypher were “screaming obscenities at each other.” They initially asked for $10 million but said they would take $5.5 million, a number that was apparently the total raised by the Daniel Pitino Foundation for abused children. She picks this number according to Pitino because Sypher said, “she too had lost a child.”
— Pitino says “I was obviously dealing with problems at home myself at the time.” Within 48 hours, he informs the Athletic Director, UL lawyers, PR Director, his wife and children of what has happened.
— In July 2009, he is charged by Sypher with rape….he leaves a recruiting trip early to come back to town to meet with Louisville police and is never charged with any crime.
— As Pitino’s testimony ends, he acknowledges that he was fooled by Karen Sypher and says that when she an Tim got married after he had taken her to get an abortion, “it was bizarre to all of us at the University.” (I guess). After their marriage, Sypher would see Pitino at Christmas parties, tailgates and his Daughter in law’s shower and they were always friendly.
— He ended the day by being asked if he had raped Sypher and he said, “absolutely not” and he answered that he found it an “insult” that she claims he ever used the phrase “concrete shoes” in reference to her or her family.
So that was it for Rick Pitino. He testified on direct examination for 3.5 hours and generally did a very good job. The presentation wasnt well orgranized (I put it in much better order than it was delievered), but that was due to the Government, not Pitino. Rick seeme believeable and was never obviously frustrated. Of course that was the easy part….tomorrow is where the drama gets heavy as they begin the cross-examination. It will be a day of fireworks for certain and it will be interesting to see how Pitino does against what is a very good defense attorney so far. I will have more later tonight on the morning witnessess…who were much goofier and bizarre.