4/15/2011

By Brittany Clement

The government’s seven-year investigation of Barry Bonds ended anticlimactically on Wednesday, as the jury found Bonds guilty of obstruction of justice, but could not agree on the three counts of perjury.  As someone who has long been critical of the government’s case, the jury’s decision is somewhat validating, but it’s hard to declare victory when your complaints about the government wasting time and money prove to be resoundingly true.  (Bonds, on the other hand, flashed a victory sign to fans outside the courthouse, despite the fact that he still is a felon under the jury’s verdict).  See Juliet Macur, Bonds Guilty of Obstruction, but Not of Perjury, New York Times, April 13, 2011.  So, what exactly does the verdict mean?  And what’s at stake in the post-verdict extra innings of this case?  Here are a few thoughts:

The Jury Vote Breakdown

            The jury votes in the three perjury counts split as one might have thought.  On the count of lying as to knowingly using steroids, the jurors voted 8-4 for his acquittal.  One juror perfectly summed up why the government couldn’t command even majority support for conviction on this count: “‘We all agreed that he was using steroids,’ said Amber Reed, 19, a student from Pinole, Calif. ‘But the question was did he know he was, and on that we had no proof.’”  Malia Wollan, For Bonds, Jurors, a Narrow Common Ground, New York Times, April 13, 2011.  Apparently, the jurors understood better than the government that testimony about a big head and shrunken testicles had little bearing on Bonds’ knowledge of his steroid use.  For that, I applaud the jury.  (We already know where I stand on the government’s antics.)

            On a similar count, knowingly using human growth hormone, Bonds picked up an extra vote in a 9-3 split for acquittal.  The government really struggled to pin down evidence about this specific performance-enhancing drug, and that showed in the jurors’ vote and statements following the trial.  Simply put, “‘We did not have enough information to connect the dots,’” said Fred Jacob, the jury foreman.  Macur, Bonds Guilty of Obstruction, but Not of Perjury.

            On the final perjury count, lying for saying he was never injected by anyone but his doctor, Bonds narrowly escaped conviction on an 11-1 vote.  A 28-year-old nurse, Nyiesha, said she could not convict Bonds on this count because she did not find Kathy Hoskins, Bonds’ former personal shopper, “totally credible.”  Wollan, For Bonds Jurors, a Narrow Common Ground.  Hoskins was the only witness to allege she saw Bonds’ trainer Greg Anderson inject Bonds with a substance.  None of the jurors seemed particularly persuaded by the audio recording between Anderson and Steve Hoskins, Bonds’ former personal assistant, in which Anderson spoke of injecting Bonds with steroids.  The jury heard the tape in the trial’s first week and requested to hear it in the first day of deliberations, but ultimately felt there was too much background noise to fully hear the conversation.  See id.

Why the Jury Didn’t Convict

            The jury’s decision seemed to hinge on two factors I’ve written about in the past few months: (1) the government didn’t prove its case; and (2) the government looked like it had a vendetta against Bonds — at the taxpayers’ expense.  Jacob, the foreman, spoke to both of these issues when asked about the possibility of prosecutors retrying Bonds.  “‘This cost the citizens a lot of money to bring him to court,’ Jacob said. ‘They’re going to have to even do more homework than they already did.’”  Feds mulling next move in Bonds saga, Associated Press, April 14, 2011.  Jacob added, “‘I think the government feeling was they had a really big fish with Bonds, and they wanted to finish what they started. … Maybe they tried a little too hard to make him look guilty.’”  Macur, Bonds Guilty of Obstruction, but Not of Perjury.  Coming from the jury foreman, that says a lot.  So much so that I don’t think I could make an argument against the government’s case any better myself.

Next Steps

            As it stands, Bonds faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years for obstruction of justice, but federal sentencing guidelines call for a 15- to 21-month prison term.  See Howard Mintz, Barry Bonds case headed for extra innings, San Jose Mercury News, April 14, 2011.  Bonds’ lawyers, however, expect District Judge Susan Illston to throw out the conviction at a May 20 hearing.  See Juliet Macur, Tangled Verdict Gives Bonds Defense Hope, New York Times, April 14, 2011.  Legal experts agreed Bonds had a decent shot at getting the conviction thrown out.  Id.  Given the lack of perjury charges to supplement obstruction of justice, along with Illston’s growing frustration with the prosecution, I’d have to agree.  If the defense can convince Illston that Bonds eventually answered questions he initially evaded, it seems Illston would have little choice but to grant Bonds a full victory.

            On the government’s end, prosecutors have until the May 20 hearing to decide whether to retry Bonds on the three perjury counts.  Id.  For the sake of the taxpayers and the government’s credibility, the prosecutors would be wise to let this case go, regardless of what happens to the obstruction of justice conviction.  It’s hard to believe an extra few months and a new jury will bring a more satisfactory ending to the government’s foray into steroids in baseball.  And at the very least, for those who don’t have what is being dubbed “steroids fatigue,” there’s always the Roger Clemens hearing, slated to begin this summer.  See Mark Bradley, A tepid Bonds verdict reveals an outbreak of Steroids Fatigue, Atlanta Journal and Constitution, April 13, 2011.  To you, I say, “play ball.”  Personally, I’d rather watch current baseball players fight for playoff spots down the stretch than see another washed up former player dragged through the mud.

            On a personal note, barring some unforeseen developments, this will be my final post on the Bonds trial.  I have truly enjoyed analyzing the legal arguments throughout, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my posts – shrunken testicles and all.