Roger Clemens trial: a rougher road than Barry Bonds had?

Slugger Barry Bonds was convicted on one of four perjury and obstruction charges, in connection with a probe of illegal steroid use. Ex-pitching ace Roger Clemens faces six charges – and may have a harder time avoiding conviction, experts say.

Cliff Owen/AP
Former Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens and his wife Debbie (r.) exit the federal court in Washington, on Wednesday, July 6, where he is on trial on charges of lying to Congress in 2008 when he denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs during his 23-year career.

Roger "The Rocket" Clemens, on trial in Washington on six counts of perjury during congressional testimony in 2008, follows Giants slugger Barry Bonds as the second baseball icon hauled into federal court this year for allegedly lying about use of steroids.

Bonds, whose trial ended in April, may still face jail time after being convicted on one count of obstructing justice for giving misleading testimony to a grand jury. But a jury could not agree to convict him on three more serious charges.

Clemens, a seven-time winner of the Cy Young Award who pitched for 23 years, may have a tougher time escaping conviction than did Bonds. As the US government continues to target sports icons for alleged use of illegal performance-enhancing substances, the Bonds case was widely seen as a training run for bigger-profile cases, such as the one against Clemens.

"The government has a much stronger case against Clemens than it had against Bonds," says Peter Keane, a law professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, who has followed both cases closely.

The cases are similar in many respects: Both are tied to the work of Jeff Novitzky, the federal Food and Drug Administration investigator who has been a key witness in several high-profile doping cases. Both cases involve allegations of lying – Bonds to a grand jury and Clemens to a congressional committee in 2008, when he denied steroid use despite evidence to the contrary.

And like Bonds, who faced a jury in a city where his former team, the Giants, are lionized, Clemens may be able to tap his star status to sway a jury. Jury selection began Wednesday and continued Thursday in Washington, D.C.

"People are enamored with celebrities and athletes, and historically they tend to give them breaks," former assistant US attorney Brian Hershman told's T.J. Quinn this spring. "Finding 12 people that are willing to knock [Clemens] off his pedestal is going to be very difficult. Clemens is such a nationally known figure, he'll still have the star factor going for him."

But the cases have significant differences, too. And many of them are likely to complicate matters for Clemens's defense team, experts say.

Where Bonds faced a hometown and arguably more liberal San Francisco jury, Clemens is being tried in the nation's capital, where juries historically tend to be more conservative and are more likely to see lying to Congress as a major no-no.

The Bonds case included little physical evidence, but prosecutors in the Clemens trial are likely to offer as Exhibit A video from the 2008 testimony, in which Clemens challenged congressmen and dismissed parts of the Mitchell Report. Written by respected former Sen. George Mitchell of Maine, the report provides the most facts and in-depth analysis of major league sports doping to date. "Let me be clear," Clemens testified. "I have never taken steroids or HGH [human growth hormone]."

Another weapon in the prosecution's case against Clemens is Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, Clemens' former good friend, a devout Christian, and a respected straight shooter who has no ax to grind against Clemens. His testimony has the potential to be damning. Prosecutors in the Bonds case had one objective key witness against the slugger, but her testimony about witnessing Bonds inject a needle in his stomach ultimately failed to sway one member of the jury.

Moreover, in Bonds's case, trainer Greg Anderson spent time in jail himself rather than testify against Bonds. Brian McNamee, Clemens's former trainer and friend, has been a cooperative witness for the government (though Clemens's defense is likely to try to discredit his checkered past).

Last, Clemens has himself provided prosecutors with ammunition. He did not have to testify before Congress in 2008, but instead he came out swinging, boldly declaring his innocence on national TV.

"Clemens has really been the instrument of his own self-destruction here," says Professor Keane. "Barry Bonds didn't want to be anywhere near that grand jury. They sort of laid a trap and he walked right into it. Clemens didn't have to appear before Congress at all and by his attitude and total denials of things that there's a fair amount of evidence that existed, Congress had no other choice" but to push for perjury charges, he adds.

The trial is expected to last into August.


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