By RONALD BLUM, AP Sports Writer
SAN FRANCISCO – Just like the whole Steroid Era: We’ll never really know.
Even the one charge that left Barry Bonds a convicted felon didn’t specify steroids.
Instead, a federal court jury found the home run king guilty of obstruction of justice Tuesday for giving an evasive answer under oath more than seven years ago. Rather than say “yes” or “no” to whether he received drugs that required a syringe, Bonds gave a rambling response to a grand jury, stating: “I became a celebrity child with a famous father.”
The decision from the eight women and four men who listened to testimony during the 12-day trial turned out to be a mixed and muddled verdict on the slugger that left more questions than answers.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston declared a mistrial on the three charges that Bonds made false statements when he told a grand jury in December 2003 that he never knowingly received steroids and human growth hormone from trainer Greg Anderson and that he allowed only doctors to inject him.
Defense lawyers will try to persuade Illston or the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to toss out the lone conviction. Federal prosecutors must decide whether it is worth the time and expense to try Bonds for a second time on the deadlocked charges.
Less than two miles from the ballpark where he broke Hank Aaron’s career home run record in August 2007, Bonds walked out of the Phillip Burton Federal Building on a sunny, windy afternoon and looked on as his lead lawyer, Allen Ruby, held a sidewalk news conference. Ruby instructed Bonds not to comment because the case wasn’t over.
Impeccably dressed in black suit and purple necktie, with a few days of stubble on his chin, Bonds flashed a victory sign to a few fans.
“Are you celebrating tonight?” one asked.
“There’s nothing to celebrate,” he replied.
While Bonds stood on the sidewalk on the courthouse’s north side, the jurors — whose names are being withheld until Thursday — went out the south entrance and many lingered to answer questions. For now, most only would give their first names.
Amber, a 19-year-old blonde woman who was the youngest juror, said the final votes were 8-4 to acquit Bonds of lying about steroids and 9-3 to acquit him on lying about HGH use. The panel voted 11-1 to convict him of getting an injection from someone other than his doctor, with one woman holding out, she said.
Jurors decided to convict Bonds on the obstruction count on Tuesday; on Wednesday they decided they could not come to unanimous decisions on the rest.
There was initial confusion when the jurors informed Illston’s clerk, Tracy Forakis, that they had reached a verdict, and the court made a public announcement. But when Forakis went back to the jury room, the panel said the verdict form wasn’t completed because there was a deadlock. The court then issued a retraction of its verdict announcement and Illston convened the lawyers, first without jurors, then with them, and learned they were stalemated on at least some of the charges.
Bonds, the seven-time National League MVP, chatted with his lawyers while Illston and the jury went back behind closed doors. When they returned, Illston opened a manila envelope with the verdict and handed it to Forakis to read.
Bonds leaned forward, looked at the clerk, but never reacted when the verdict was read. His mother, Pat, watched from a second-row bench.
“Divided, not unanimous,” on count one.
“Divided, not unanimous,” on count two.
“Divided, not unanimous,” on count three.
And then, just when it appeared Bonds would escape unscathed, came the final word from the jury:
“Guilty,” on obstruction of justice.
Dennis Riordan, one of the lawyers on Bonds’ legal team that numbered as many as 13 some days, asked Illston to throw out the guilty verdict and for a new trial on that count. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Parrella asked the judge to set a sentencing date. Instead, Illston announced a May 20 date for a status conference.
“This case is about upholding one of the most fundamental principles in our system of justice — the obligation of every witness to provide truthful and direct testimony in judicial proceedings,” Melinda Haag, the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco, said in a statement. “In the United States, taking an oath and promising to testify truthfully is a serious matter. We cannot ignore those who choose instead to obstruct justice. We will decide whether to seek a retrial of the defendant on the remaining counts as soon as possible.”
Now 46 and far trimmer than he appeared in the final years of his career, Bonds faces up to 10 years in prison on the obstruction conviction. Yet federal guidelines call for 15-21 months.
For similar offenses in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroids ring case, known as BALCO, Illston sentenced cyclist Tammy Thomas to six months of home confinement and track coach Trevor Graham to one year of home confinement.
Baseball’s season (73) and career (762) record-holder for home runs, Bonds testified before a grand jury that Anderson told him the substances he was giving Bonds were flaxseed oil and arthritic balm, and that Bonds didn’t know they were designer steroids.
“Did Greg ever give you anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with?” Bonds was asked.
His answer meandered, talking about his friendship with Anderson. The underlined part in the indictment, the crime he was convicted of, was this response: “That’s what keeps our friendship. You know, I am sorry, but that — you know, that — I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation, you see.”
The jury instruction said that to be convicted, Bonds must be found to have “obstructed, influenced or impeded, or endeavored to obstruct, influence, or impede” the grand jury “by knowingly giving material testimony that was intentionally evasive, false or misleading.”
The defense plans to argue that Bonds’ answer wasn’t relevant to the grand jury.
The government “has determined it’s unlawful for Barry Bonds to tell the grand jury he’s a celebrity child and to talk about his friendship with Greg Anderson,” Ruby said.
Jurors said they unanimously agreed Tuesday on the obstruction verdict.
“When you’re in front of a grand jury you have to answer, and he gave a (expletive) answer,” said Fred Jacob, the 56-year-old jury foreman. “He gave a story rather than a yes-or-no answer.”
Jurors generally spent one day of deliberations on each count.
A 60-year-old juror, who identified himself only as Steve, thought the defense successfully impeached key prosecution witnesses Steve and Kathy Hoskins and Kimberly Bell during cross-examination.
“They tried to discredit the witnesses. They tried to make the prosecutors look like bad guys. Were they successful in doing that? Yes,” he said.
He also said the government was hurt by Bonds’ physician, Dr. Arthur Ting, who refuted many of Steve Hoskins’ allegations.
“I think the prosecutors got a big bomb thrown in their lap,” Steve said.
Jacob said the absence of Anderson — who was imprisoned during the trial on a contempt citation for refusing to testify — hindered the government’s ability to prove Bonds lied about steroids.
“We couldn’t connect the dots between steroids, Greg and Barry,” he said.
On the HGH count, he said: “There just wasn’t any evidence. HGH is very hard to detect and there wasn’t any scientific evidence. Everything was circumstantial.”
The holdout on the “needle” count was a juror who identified herself as Nyiesha. She said she didn’t believe the testimony of Bonds’ personal shopper Kathy Hoskins, who told the jury she watched Anderson inject the slugger in the belly.
“They were family,” Nyiesha said of the Hoskins siblings. “That left me with reasonable doubt.”
Nyiesha, a 28-year-old nurse, said she almost changed her mind Monday, but decided to remain steadfast after “sleeping on it.”
Other jurors said they found Kathy Hoskins to be the most credible of the central witnesses.
Jacob didn’t hold out much hope for prosecutors gaining additional convictions in a retrial.
If they want to “pursue this case,” he said, “they’re going to have to do more homework than they did.”
Bonds became the 11th person — and fourth athlete — who either was convicted or pleaded guilty in the BALCO case, which began in 2002. Other athletes, besides Thomas, include NFL defensive lineman Dana Stubblefield and Olympic track gold medalist Marion Jones, who also pleaded guilty in a check-fraud scheme.
It was a messy end to a case that put the slugger — and baseball itself — under a cloud of suspicion for more than three years since Bonds’ indictment. Former AL MVP Jason Giambi and three other players were forced to publicly admit their use of steroids. Bonds did not testify, and the defense didn’t even call any witnesses after prosecutors called 25 to the stand.
Next up is Roger Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, scheduled for trial in federal court in Washington, D.C., starting July 6, on three counts of making false statements, two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of Congress. That case may be delayed by wrangling over evidence.
Jeff Novitzky, the federal investigator who aggressively led the BALCO investigation, is at the forefront of a different grand jury probing Lance Armstrong, who has won the Tour de France a record seven times.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig did not mention Bonds by name in a post-trial statement. Instead, he stressed MLB’s efforts to rid the sports of performance-enhancing drugs.
“This trial is a stark illustration of how far this sport has come,” he said. “In contrast to allegations about the conduct of former players and the environment of past years, 2011 marks the eighth season of drug testing in the major leagues and our 11th season in the minors. With increased testing, cutting-edge research, proactive security efforts, and extensive education and awareness programs, we have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to keeping illegal substances out of the game.”
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