Roger Clemens indicted: How much trouble is he in?

Baseball star Roger Clemens was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on charges of lying to Congress during a 2008 hearing on steroid use. But proving perjury is difficult.

By , Staff writer

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    Former New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens testifies before the House Oversight, and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 13, 2008.
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How much trouble is Roger Clemens in?

Well, he’s in a heap of a mess in regards to his personal image and financial future. It is never a good thing to be indicted by a federal grand jury for perjury, as the former Rex Sox-Blue Jays-Yankees superstar Clemens was on Thursday. The indictment likely will color fans’ views of his career forever, and perhaps keep him out of the Hall of Fame, despite statistics that rank him among the best pitchers of all time. His legal costs will now skyrocket even as his prospect for earning quick cash through speeches or endorsements declines.

But how much legal trouble is he in? That’s another question. In general, prosecutors don’t like to bring perjury prosecutions, says Geoffrey Rapp, a sports law expert and professor at the University of Toledo College of Law. They must prove not only that the defendant lied, but that he or she intended to lie. And that is difficult to do.

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“This is bad news for him in terms of further investigations into his private life and history’s view of him, but I doubt he will go to jail,” says Mr. Rapp, who is also a contributor to the Sports Law Blog.

Clemens faces charges of perjury, making false statements, and obstruction of Congress. The underlying allegation is that the seven-time Cy Young Award winner lied when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs under oath at a 2008 House Oversight Committee hearing.

“Americans have a right to expect that witnesses who testify under oath before Congress will tell the truth,” United States Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said Thursday in a statement.

At that 2008 House hearing, Brian McNamee, a former trainer of Clemens, said that he injected the pitcher with steroids and human growth hormone more than a dozen times from 1998 to 2001. Clemens denied it.

“It’s impossible to believe this is a simple misunderstanding,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California, then the panel’s chairman, in his opening statement at that hearing. “Somebody is not telling the truth.”

At the time, longtime Clemens friend and teammate Andy Petite told congressional investigators that Clemens confided in him that he had used the substances. Clemens said Mr. Petite must have misheard or been mistaken.

Clemens’ attorney, Rusty Hardin, told the AP that he had just heard of the indictment and was still formulating a response. But legal experts say several aspects of Clemens’ forthcoming defense are easy to ascertain.

It is likely that the defense will question the legality of admitting into evidence syringes and other material kept by Mr. McNamee that allegedly contain traces of Clemens’ DNA. The chain of custody of that evidence may be suspect – it remained in McNamee’s care for years, under unknown conditions.

It’s also likely that the defense will downplay certain aspects of Clemens’ testimony to Congress that directly contradict things McNamee said. For instance, McNamee insisted that he saw Clemens and admitted steroid user Jose Canseco together at a team party held at Canseco’s house. Clemens denied this, saying he played golf at a nearby Miami course instead.

Clemens hedged on that claim as the hearing wore on, and subsequent testimony indicated it is quite likely Clemens was at the party, at least for a time. The defense will probably say this was nothing but an unintentional and natural mistake that has no bearing on whether Clemens used steroids or not.

Again, that is the difficulty with perjury – prosecutors must prove the defendant knowingly lied.

“Maybe what Clemens said is clear. Maybe what he said is open to multiple interpretations,” says Rapp.

Given the difficulties of prosecution, and the financial and personal stakes for Clemens himself, some kind of settlement may be likely, in the end.

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