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Barry Bonds trial opens with push to prevent 'roundabout justice'

Jury selection begins Monday in the Barry Bonds trial. A primary goal is to find jurors who will focus on the actual charges in the case – perjury – and not allegations of steroid use.

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This is “roundabout justice” – getting payback through the courts for a perceived crime that is not formally charged – and therefore the jury selection process will be particularly important, says Michelle Dempsey, a law professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

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Some jurors “will walk in and say to themselves, ‘No matter what others say, I want to nail this guy for his drug use,’ and others will say, ‘This guy is my hero and deserves to go free,’ ” she says.

Proving perjury

The challenges facing the prosecution once the trial begins will center on the nature of proving perjury itself.

“The falsehood has to be clear, so the questions must be clear,” says Professor Godfrey of Chicago-Kent College of Law. “If someone answers a question with a question and the interlocutor never pins him down to an answer, the government can’t show that there is a falsehood – just an ambiguity.”

Bonds is not the only baseball star facing a federal trial on perjury charges. Pitcher Roger Clemens has been indicted on charges of lying to Congress in 2008 testimony. His trial is expected to begin this summer.

“It is noteworthy that the US government is going to trial first in the Barry Bonds rather than the Roger Clemens case,” says Kevin Johnson, dean of the University of California at Davis School of Law, who suggests race could be a factor.

Bonds has been unpopular with the public since allegations of steroid use emerged in 2003 – before he broke the all-time home run record.

“Indeed, when he was passing Babe Ruth in the record book, Bonds was the subject of consistent hate mail, including that of the racist variety,” Johnson says. “The government may believe that it is best to go to trial first with the less-popular defendant, believing that it is the one that a jury is more likely to convict. And, although it is very complicated, Barry Bonds appears to be less popular – at least in part – than Roger Clemens because he is African American."

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