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Prosecution rests in Pitino extortion trial

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Prosecutors on Tuesday rested their case against a woman charged with trying to extort millions from Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino in exchange for staying silent about a sexual fling in a restaurant.

The finish came after seven days of sometimes lurid testimony and 21 witnesses, the star being Pitino himself, who answered detailed questions about the night in 2003 that he and Karen Cunagin Sypher had sex in a closed Italian restaurant.

Sypher's defense is expected to begin Wednesday and it was unclear if she will take the witness stand.

She is accused of demanding $10 million, college tuition for her children, and her house to be paid off in exchange for her silence about the tryst. Sypher, 50, has pleaded not guilty to extortion, retaliating against a witness and lying to the FBI. She faces prison time if convicted.

The final prosecution witness, FBI Special Agent Steven Wight, said in some extortion cases, the victim pays the blackmailer before calling law enforcement.

"There are cases I'm aware of where that happened," Wight said.

Earlier in the trial, Pitino testified that two of his representatives met with Sypher and her attorney about a note and a letter demanding payment from Pitino. Ultimately, the coach paid nothing and contacted the FBI.

Jurors watched a videotaped interview that Louisville police Sgt. Andy Abbott conducted with Sypher on July 10, 2009. In it, Sypher tells Abbott that Pitino raped her twice — once at Porcini and once at the condo of her future husband, Tim Sypher — before she had an abortion in August 2003.

Abbott said Sypher omitted important details about the alleged July 31, 2003, attack at the restaurant and contradicted herself several times during the interview at police headquarters. Abbott also noted that, during the interview, Sypher made crying sounds, but did not have tears in her eyes.

Abbott said he submitted the case to prosecutors for consideration after interviewing Pitino, Sypher and speaking with the FBI because Sypher had already been charged with trying to extort millions of dollars from Pitino.

Kentucky prosecutors declined to pursue the case or send it back to Abbott for further investigation, saying Sypher's allegations lacked merit.

Among the details Sypher didn't disclose on the video was the presence of Pitino's aide and driver, Vinnie Tatum, at Porcini the night of the sexual encounter. Abbott said he found out about Tatum being at the restaurant in a conversation with the FBI two days after he interview with Sypher.

In a subsequent phone call, Sypher acknowledged that Tatum was in the restaurant.

"She told me he was dead drunk on the other side of the wall," Abbott said.

Tatum previously testified to being at the restaurant, but moving from the bar to the dining area of Porcini because he felt uncomfortable around Pitino and Sypher before their sexual encounter.

On cross examination, defense attorney James Earhart attacked the way Abbott handled the investigation, focusing on Tatum and others who were at the restaurant not being interviewed.

Abbott also acknowledged that he interviewed Sypher at the request of then-chief deputy Lt. Col. Troy Riggs. Abbott said Riggs, now the police chief in Corpus Christi, Texas, wanted a supervisor involved in the investigation and asked Abbott, who oversees the sex crimes detectives, to handle it.

In most cases, Abbott said, detectives would handle the preliminary investigation, then report to a supervisor.