Roger Clemens mistrial: closure hard to find in steroid scandals

A mistake by a prosecutor leads Judge Reggie Walton to declare a mistral in the Roger Clemens perjury case, leaving a big question mark over the government's antidoping crusade.

Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS
Former Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens (c.) leaves the federal courthouse in Washington Thursday. The judge declared a mistrial in the perjury trial.

Just four months after former home run slugger Barry Bonds escaped the most serious charges in a steroid-related court case, the federal judge overseeing the perjury trial of former baseball great Roger Clemens declared a mistrial Thursday.

The mistrial came after a prosecutor revealed details that the judge had previously declared were hearsay and thus inadmissible in front of a jury. Mr. Clemens faced several perjury charges relating to testimony he gave to Congress in February 2008, when he told congressmen he had never used steroids, despite a trove of evidence that he actually had.

Though government prosecutors are free to retry the case, the quick mistrial is a blow to what has been widely seen as an effort to bring closure to the government's decade-long fight against doping in professional sports. Indeed, it is likely to fuel misgivings that many American sports fans have about the government pursuing athletes, sports business experts say.

"This will cause a lot of people to ask, 'Why are we spending resources on this when the economy is struggling and there are bigger issues requiring government attention?' " says David Carter, the director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of South California in Los Angeles. "Collectively, people are tired of it, and perhaps athletes are banking on that fatigue."

That frustration was shared at least in part by US District Judge Reggie Walton, who declared the mistrial after the prosecution brought up a statement made by Laura Pettitte, wife of former Yankees pitcher and key prosecution witness Andy Pettitte, which referred to steroid use.

"Government counsel doesn’t do just what government counsel can get away with doing … I’m very troubled by this," Judge Walton told prosecutors pointedly. "A lot of government money has been used to reach this point. The government should have been more cautious. I don’t see how I can un-ring the bell.”

Walton set a Sept. 2 hearing to discuss where the case goes next, if anywhere.

"The prosecution will likely continue to pursue this case when the matter is revisited in September," writes Craig Calcaterra on NBC Sports Hardball Talk blog. "But at this point, between the Bonds acquittal and this blunder, I suspect that the fates are trying to tell the government something about the wisdom of pursuing high-profile perjury prosecutions regarding professional athletes and steroids."

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