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United States of America v. Barry Lamar Bonds

March 24, 2011

It has been a long time coming, however, the Barry Bonds perjury trial is finally underway.  Bonds, the single season record holder and all time home run king, is being charged with four counts of making false statements to the grand jury and one count of obstruction. Bonds is accused of lying to a grand jury in 2003 about his use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs.  Bonds claims that he “never knowingly” used steroids, with the word “knowingly” being critical to the case.  Each count carries a penalty of up to 10 years, but federal guidelines recommend a sentence of 15-to-21 months.  The trial is expected to take four to six weeks.

The Charges

The charges against Barry Bonds in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, relating to his testimony on Dec. 4, 2003:

1. Made false declaration before grand jury when asked “Did you ever take any steroids he (Anderson) gave you?” Bonds answered: “Not that I know of.”

2. Made false declaration before grand jury when asked whether anyone other than the team doctor and other physicians had injected him. “No individuals like Mr. Anderson or associates of his?” Bonds answered: “No, no.”

3. Made false declaration before grand jury when asked “He (Anderson) never gave you anything that you understood to be human growth hormone? Did he ever give you anything like that?” Bonds answered: “No.”

4. Made false declaration before grand jury when asked “Prior to the last season, you never took anything that he (Anderson) asked you to take, other than the vitamins?” Bonds answered: “Right.”

5. Obstruction of justice: “Did corruptly influence, obstruct and impede and endeavor to corruptly influence, obstruct and impede the due administration of justice by knowingly giving material grand jury testimony that was intentionally evasive, false and misleading, including but not limited to the false statements made by the defendant as charged in counts one through four of this indictment.”

The Judge and Lawyers

Susan Illston is judging the case.  Illston is a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California in the Ninth Judicial Circuit.  She assumed office after being nominated by President Clinton in May of 1995.  In 2006, Illston presided over another steroids involved case, US v. Arnold, sentencing Patrick Arnold, the chemist who developed an undetectable performance-enhancing drug for the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), to three months in prison.

Jeff Novitzky (no relation to Dirk) is the lead counsel for the prosecution.  He is the same federal agent who led the investigation of the BALCO over 6 years ago.  Assistant US Attorney, Matthew A. Parrella, joins Novitzky in their case again Bonds.

Allen Ruby is the lead defense attorney for Bonds.  He has a rich voice that has been regularly inflected with sarcasm.  He insists that Bonds has been telling the truth all along and that the people who claim otherwise are bitter because Bonds broke off relationships with them against their will.  Ruby is joined by Chris Arguedas of Arguedas, Cassman, & Headley LLP Criminal Defense Law Firm.

Mark J. Geragos is the lawyer of Bonds trainer and long time friend, Greg Anderson.  Anderson was Bonds connection to BALCO, and could have been a key witness in the case. Judge Illston, however, has already informed the jury that Anderson was unavailable and that jurors may not draw “any inference from his failure to testify,” after Anderson declined to testify against his good friend for the fourth time and was again sent to jail.

The Jury

The jury is composed of 12 jurors and 2 alternates.  After more than 5 hours of questioning, the lawyers selected these 14 individuals from a pool of around 100 candidates.  The jury is composed of 8 women and 4 men, with the 2 alternates also being women.  Only two members of the jury are black and they are both female, however, Bonds defense team insists that the race and gender of the jury don’t matter.

One potential juror who was dismissed told the judge that he might have been reluctant to render a judgment against a “great athlete like Mr. Bonds.”  Another said that he feels “steroids are like cheating.  You have an advantage over the other players.  It’s not fair.”

Personal Take

While there is a chance that Bonds was telling the truth, things are not looking good for one of the best baseball players of all-time.  Witnesses have claimed that they saw him and Anderson enter rooms with Anderson holding a needle.  Other witnesses have claimed that they overheard Bonds talking about trainers giving him shots, being upset when they wouldn’t, and insisting that if they didn’t they he would do it himself.  Anderson, talking to Bonds, was also heard saying that there was no need to worry because something was “undetectable” in a recorded conversation.

The change in Bonds physical appearance over the years of his suspected steroid usage speaks volumes as well.  While it is not unnatural for a person of that age to gain significant weight, Bonds went from being lean to brawny in a flash.  Additionally, while it is not unusual for an aging player to rely more on power than speed towards the end of their careers, no player in the history of baseball hit home runs at the same pace as Bonds.

Even if he was never told that what he was taking was steroids, shouldn’t he have asked?  Wasn’t he curious why he was putting on muscle and gaining weight like he had never done previously?  This all seems a little fishy to me, and if the jury feels the same way, Bonds could be looking at a few years in jail, not to mention a tarnished legacy. If found guilty, I would not be surprise if the MLB gives Bonds something similar to the Pete Rose treatment, keeping him out of the Hall of Fame as he is the figure head of one of the worst eras in the history baseball.

Conclusion

While I am a huge Barry Bonds fan, think that he should be a first-ballot hall of famer, and believe that he is one of the most dominate athletes of all time, I do not feel that he will win this trial.  There is too much reason to believe that he knew what he was doing all along and lied to the grand jury intentionally in order to protect his reputation.  Athletes of Bonds caliber should know, or at least ask about, what other people are putting into their bodies.  It is hard to believe that Bonds, a 14 time all-star and 7 time NL MVP, did not “know” exactly what he was doing.  That being said, this is a trial that is taking place in California involving a local baseball legend being judged among a jury of his peers with great lawyers on both sides.  This is usually the formula for a very long and interesting case in which anything can happen.

– Michael

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