It would have been easy to be disappointed about Day 2 of the Karen Sypher trial in Louisville. We had heard that Rick Pitino might take the stand and that got put off for at least a day. My phone went missing for a bit, accidentally swiped by a Courier Journal reporter in a case of mistaken identity that made me worry I would forever lose my phone numbers and be relegated to sending singing telegrams to Bomani and Gregg Doyel. And the woman sitting behind me looked like she was dressed as a spy from a 1940s Black and White movie (complete with sunglasses and a scarf), whispering her commentary on the events all morning to a poor sap unfortunate enough to have been placed next to her. But in the end, Day 2 of the Sypher trial did not disappoint because it brought out the absurdity in ways that we might never have thought possible. It was a big day for the defense, as the defense attorneys scored big points by poking holes in major government witnesses, specifically Lester and the Porcini’s waitress. What follows is not comedy or exaggeration…it is (an extremely long version of) the actual sequence of events as they happened. I have thoughts on what all of this means, but we will save that for some other time. For now, just the facts:
KAREN SYPHER on VIDEO:
— The day started with a viewing of Karen Sypher’s interview with Fox 41 in 2009. The video was 80 minutes in length and its lack of editing made it difficult to focus on its contents. I missed the first 15 minutes of the video, but saw the rest and much of it was simply a regurgitation of the facts as we know them.
— She said that after talking to Pitino in 2009, he asked her, “what do you want? What can I do to make your life better?” She claims he offered to give her things because of the “unfortunate incident” (what she claims Rick called the abortion)
— Pitino met with Karen Sypher both before and after the Big East Tournament in 2009, in an attempt to try and figure out a way to “make my life better.”
— Sypher says that Pitino had set up an account for her daughter’s college education, but that she had never been told about it until these meetings.
— At one of these meetings, Rick said, “you know I didnt rape you Karen.”
— Sypher claims that both sexual encounters with Rick took place and were done “very quick…very quick.”
— In 2003 after the abortion, Karen Sypher fell in love with Tim Sypher (the man who took her to get the abortion at the direction of Pitino) and they dated and got married very quickly. Tim Sypher asked Karen to marry him unexpectedly while they were visiting her grandmother’s grave.
— Most of the end of the interview focused on Karen Sypher talking about her disdain for Pitino and his lack of morality. She talked in graphic detail about her abortion and the pain that it still causes her. She also said that she had a second abortion when she became pregnant with a baby with Tim Sypher, claiming that he made her have one as well.
— I cant do Lester justice, but I will try. Lester is of course the individual who was alleged to have made the phone calls to Pitino and handled the actual extortion. It is hard to truly describe Lester’s appearance, but the best I can do is to say a late 50s “Bobby” from “King of the Hill.” He spoke slowly, had a flat top buzzcut and was…well, he was Lester.
— Lester worked for LG&E for 31 years as a gas service provider. He met Karen Sypher in 1994 when he installed gas service at her house. When asked how Sypher learned his name, he said, “because I was wearing it on my shirt.”
— While there for the first meeting, he chatted with Sypher and after she complained about some rocks that needed to be moved, he volunteered to come and move them. Over the years, he would do assorted odd jobs for Sypher, including moving things and mowing her mother’s yard.
— Over time their relationship became more romantic and one day he took her to McDonalds. When asked when the two had their first kiss, Lester pointed to this date and said, “it was after we had a coke.”
— Lester was married, but the hot passion of a Lester-Sypher love affair could not be contained and in 1999, their relationship became sexual.
— Lester would also give Sypher money in $20 and $40 increments and he estimates that over the course of their relationship, he gave her around $10,000. He says he still considered her a “good friend.”
— In 2002, the relationship stopped, but they saw each other again at a 2005 UL basketball game. They exchanged numbers again and began their encounters once again. They would see each other 1-2 times a week, whenever Lester could get away or his wife was out of town.
— Lester would give gifts to the family, including hams and turkeys on holidays. They began having sex again and over time, Lester got to know Karen’s kids when he would see them around the house.
— On February 25, 2009, Karen Sypher came to Lester’s house at 10 am while his wife was out of town. She was there an hour and she gave him oral sex.
— After the oral sex, she told him that she was going to tell him something “she had never told anyone before.” She said she was raped by Pitino twice. She also told about the abortions and her situation. According to Lester, she begged him to make phone calls for her and that if he ever cared for her at all, he had to do this for her.
— She claimed she needed money and was hoping for $200,000 or $400,000 but Lester said he didnt think she could get more than about $20,000
— She made him go to a pay phone and call Pitino’s cell, so it could not be traced. She wanted him to call immediately so it would upset Rick before the Big East Tournament. He called twice that day and then waited a few days and called a third time…but he then said there would be no more after that. The transcripts of the three calls (all played in court) are below:
Hey Rick. Just got some info from abortion clinic up in Cincinnati that in 03, you paid to have an abortion for a young lady that presumably you raped her in the bathroom of a restaurant. I’d kind of like to know how you feel about this and konwing that you, uh, had a baby by you aborted but then alos the charges of rape against you. So I will get back wich’ ya.
Yeah Rick, uh, yeah you know you also raped the girl a second time up in her future husband’s condo while he was upstairs. Why would you do something like ‘at? So now I’m not out to get money, I don’t want any part of that, but I just want you to do the right thing for the woman. You need to do the right thing, that’s all.
Call 3 (ten days later):
Within two weeks, media will be notified of all the evidence and details of the rape.
— Two days after making the last call, Lester was called by Sypher and said, “dont call me, I am being followed and watched.” She then called a couple of days later and when he answered said, “I need to find out what to do about these phone calls that you made.” He said he wasnt interested, and they did not talk again.
— At the end of the direct testimony, Lester claimed that he was surprised that his good friend had turned on him and that “she used to call me sweetie.”
CROSS-EXAMINATION OF LESTER:
— On cross-examination, the defense attorney was very harsh with Lester about his relationship with Sypher. He inquired as to why Lester would do all these favors for Sypher and he asked whether Lester was simply “infatuated with her.” Lester said no, he just thought they were “very good friends.”
— The attorney asked why he liked talking to her so much and Lester said, “She was a very beautiful woman.” He was questioned as to whether they were truly good friends and whether Sypher even knew his last name. He said he was sure she did and then stood up, lifted up his shirt and said, “I wear my name on my belt buckle every day.”
— The attorney read testimony previously given by Lester to the grand jury in which he stated that “all he wanted from Pitino was an apology” and noted that he never asked for money or any other thing that could be considered extortion. Lester said he wasnt sure why he had previously testified to that.
— The attorney then notes that the FBI told Lester that Sypher had turned on him and he asked if Lester’s feelings had been hurt and he said yes. Then the attorney asked a very effective series of questions, asking why would Lester risk losing his job, committing a felony, losing his wife, etc just for a random woman. He said, “I guess I was just being stupid.”
— Then came the big moment of the day. The defense attorney questioned whether Lester had even made the third call (which is the one that is most easily legally considered extortion). Lester claimed he did, but the defense attorney noted that while Lester could identify where he was when he made the first two calls, he had previously been unable to identify where he was when he made the third call, until told by the FBI. Then in a very dramatic moment, the attorney played the first call, then the second call and then the third. The third call (a) had a very different sound quality and (b) sounded like potentially a different voice. To the untrained ear (like mine), it could have been Lester, but it was much more powerful and deeper than the other two calls. The defense quickly rested in what was likely the most powerful piece of testimony yet.
FBI GUY/SPRINT GUY:
— The next two witnesses were terribly boring. An FBI person testified, clearly to introduce evidence that Sypher told the FBI she didnt know Lester made the calls. However with no recording or written statement taken, it was simply the agent saying that was what he was told. The defense attorney noted that at first, Sypher didnt say it was Lester, but then the next day she said it might be….which leads the law dork in me to wonder if one day of lying testimony is enough for a charge. I guess we shall see.
— A guy was brought from Sprint to testify as to how cell phones and voicemail work. It was terribly boring testimony that could have only been effective for anyone over the age of 80, who has not seen a cell phone. Guess what people…when you call someone and it goes to voice mail, it goes out of state to a computer in Cleveland! This took 30 minutes to explain, while the Assistant prosecutor said the word “alright” 45 times. At the end, we found out that Sprint guy’s full-time job is to travel around America and testify at trials about how voice mail works. If that isnt the definition of misery, I dont know what is.
— When the man with too many consonants walked in, you knew things were going to be great. He was older, bald on top but with long, greasy hair on the side that has turned into a mini-mullet. In short, he was awesome. He worked at the Courier Journal (of course) as a VP of Operations, in charge of things like the printing press and delivery drivers. We learned that he has 11 managers working under him, with 45 supervisors under them and 340 operations staff under them…and we wonder why newspapers dont make money.
— Przybylek is a self-proclaimed “regular” at Porcinis and was there on July 31, 2009. He went in and took a seat at the bar next to Karen Sypher, who was sitting next to two other blond women.
— Przy being the suave man that he is, offers Sypher a glass of wine and they begin talking. She tells him she needs a job with benefits and he says he works at the Courier. She asks about a position and he says they have new sales jobs opening up for a new publication called “Velocity”. He tells her she should apply.
— Later she does apply and sees Przy at the newspaper. She ends up getting the job. Przy says the encounter at Porcinis was not an “interview” and that until that night, he had never seen Sypher before.
— On the way out the door, Przy gives a fist bump to the Courier Journal reporter who took my phone and retreats to his world of awesomeness and unspellable names.
— I never caught Maggie’s last name, but she was called to the stand because she happened to be at the bar the night this all went down. Think about that for a second….you go to a bar with your friends, do your thing and leave…and then SIX YEARS LATER, you randomly are drawn into the biggest trial in the city of Louisville in a decade. Has to be strange. Maggie was ready however with curly, blond hair, a big smile and a tendency to try to make people laugh with her cute comments and sidebars….it got old quickly.
— Maggie works at Big Springs CC and says they have a “Really nice pro shop” that she is in charge of. She was at one time a pro golfer in China and Japan, making me wonder if the USA is simply sending our female golfers to Asia in exchange for their golfers on the LPGA tour…but I digress.
— On July 31, 2003, Maggie was just as happy as she could be at Porcinis when she met Rick Pitino and his friend Jeff Carmichael. They were just so nice and sweet and Pitino was impressed she was a pro golfer. So Pitino invited her to come play golf with him at Vahalla sometime, which she thought was just so nice and sweet and he did it because “he knows I like golf.” (Ok….turning off sarcasm now).
— While Maggie and her friends were talking to Rick, Karen Sypher came over in a “rude manner” and introduced herself to Rick. She had a phone in her hand and kept asking Rick to say hello to her son. Rick did, but Maggie thought it was very rude of Sypher.
— Maggie also remembers (seven years later) that Sypher was dressed “flashy”, although she couldnt remember what she was wearing.
— Maggie never got to go on that golf outing because they never called her to set it up. She still wants to play Vahalla though, so keep that in mind people!
— Next to my man Lester, Melissa Brent was the star witness of the day, but not in a good way for the Government. Brent was a bartender at Porcinis at the time of the incident and worked there for ten years.
— She was working on the night of July 31, 2003, and she remembers it well. She said that “THE BOYS” were there, which was the group that regularly hung out at Porcinis 2-3 days a week. According to Brent, “The Boys” were a group that included Rick Pitino, Reggie Theus, Vinnie Tatum, Jeff Carmichael, Glenn Hogan and Bart Adams and they came in all the time to have a good old time. She regularly waited on them and they were always a lot of fun. They went by “The Boys” to all at Porcinis.
— On July 31, 2003, she also saw Karen Sypher there with Przy (another regular) and it “appeared they were on a date.” She said Sypher was dressed in a “white shirt and a very short skirt”.
— The bills for the night were then entered into evidence. They showed that “The Boys” had approximately $150 worth of food and drinks comped, and another $65 worth of drinks charged to “The Boys”, $15 to Rick Pitino, “$38 to Vinnie Tatum and another $230 in food and drinks paid for by Jeff Carmichael. She didnt know who ordered what but “The Boys” all paid for each other usually.
— Vinnie Tatum was the Designated Driver, which wasnt unusual because “Coach always had DDs.”
— She said that she “noticed Sypher was trying to get in with ‘The Boys'” and was “very flirty and giggly.” She hung out with them throughout the night until Brent was ready to leave.
— At the end of the night when she left, the only people there were Pitino, Sypher, Vinnie Tatum and the bar owner. As she left, she noticed that “they were sitting rather close. My impression was that they were enjoying each other’s company.”
— She saw Sypher again at Porcinis over the next few years, usually with her husband, Tim Sypher.
MELISSA BRENT CROSS-EXAMINATION:
— Then came an absolute surgical destruction of this witness by Sypher’s attorney. He effectively made a point that totally took Brent off of her game. He essentially asked, “if you worked at this place for ten years, and it was six years between July 31, 2003 and when the FBI asked you about this night, how could you remember all these details? The attorney asked questions such as:
— ok well who else was in the bar that night?
— what was everyone else wearing?
— who was in the bar June 6, 2003, August 15, 2006 and other random dates?
— do you know or remember Maggie who just testified?
— if you have seen “The Boys” there so much, who else have they talked to?
— Brent could answer none of these questions and could remember no specificity about any night at Porcinis except the night in question and only then about Sypher. She could not answer what anyone was wearing but Sypher, who else was at the bar and even, whether this night was any different from other nights. All she could talk about was Sypher and the defense attorney effectively showed that it was implausible Brent could remember this night as it pertained to Sypher in such detail and not other nights. The Government tried to rebuild the witness, but she was done and whatever credibility her testimony may have had was basically shot.
Court was then recessed for the day. Lester and Melissa Brent were the stars of the show, but mainly because their testimony was so thoroughly shaken on cross-examination. It was a crazy set of events, from the first site of Lester walking in the room, to Maggie talking glowingly about playing golf with Pitino to Melissa Brent going on and on about “The Boys” and her precision memory of a random encounter that took place 7 years ago. Tomorrow Vinnie Tatum (who was in the restaurant while the sexual encounter took place) and Pitino are scheduled to take the stand. It should be quite the show.