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Jury weighs decision in Pitino extortion case
Question of the Day
LOUISVILLE, KY. (AP) - 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.
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.
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.”
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 of 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.
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 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.
Associated Press writer Will Graves contributed to this report.
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