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Trial of Barry Bonds

From BR Bullpen

The Trial of Barry Bonds, officially named USA vs Bonds, was held in 2011 in San Francisco, CA. Slugger Barry Bonds, baseball's all-time home run leader, was charged with five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from his 2003 testimony before a federal grand jury in the investigation of BALCO for supplying steroids to various top athletes in the San Francisco area. At the time, Bonds had testified that he had never knowingly taken steroids or received injections from anyone but a licensed physician. On April 13th, the jury found him guilty of obstruction of justice but failed to reach an agreement on the three remaining perjury charges. He was sentenced to two years' probation as a result.


On July 25, 2007, with Bonds days away from catching Hank Aaron for the career home run record, chemist Patrick Arnold said he thought Bonds had knowingly taken "The Clear" (a substance Arnold created) which Arnold says definitely increased his concentration, power, and caused a rise in batting average and home runs. Arnold cited a comment by BALCO's Victor Conte that "Barry's on the program" and said he had a "strong feeling" that Bonds was using the substance. Speculation about Bonds' possible use of performance-enhancing substances had been rampant for years, but this was the first statement from such a knowledgeable source. On November 15th, Bonds was indicted by a federal grand jury of five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice because of inconsistencies in his testimony in the BALCO affair in 2003. He pleaded not guilty. On February 29, 2008, the presiding judge ruled that Bonds' entire testimony should be made public, and requested that federal prosecutors re-write their indictment to conform with what was now public evidence.

On February 10, 2011, prosecutors announced that they were dropping six charges from their initial indictment, cutting these to five. While this decision did not affect the potential penalties faced by Bonds, it reflected the perception that many of the original charges would be too difficult to prove in the expected absence of testimony by Bonds's personal trainer Greg Anderson, who had refused to provide evidence at the grand jury level and did time in jail for his actions. Two weeks later, the federal side showed they would bring out the heavy artillery in attempting to secure a conviction against Bonds: they indicated that they planned to interview as witnesses Bonds' former mistress, Kimberly Bell, and his personal doctor, as well as childhood friend and former business partner Steve Hoskins, to testify against Bonds and try to establish that Bonds had displayed a pattern of abusive behavior and physiological changes consistent with the documented side-effects of steroid use. That tactic was immediately decried by Bonds's lawyers as an attempt at character assassination. Federal Judge Susan Illston did turn down the prosecution's attempt to introduce as evidence recordings of Bonds from Bell's voice mail, which would have been used to demonstrate supposed instances of so-called "'roid rage". On March 1st, Bonds re-entered a plea of "not guilty", a move necessitated by the changes to the charges he faced.

The Trial[edit]

Bonds's trial for perjury and obstruction of justice began on March 21, 2011, under the name "USA vs. Bonds". Speculation was that he was unlikely to face prison time if convicted, as a former pro cyclist who was facing similar charges in the BALCO scandal received house arrest and probation instead.[1]] Complicating the issue was Anderson's refusal to testify; as expected, on the trial's second day, he was charged with contempt of court and immediately taken into custody, but the defense's lawyers claimed to the media that this would significantly weaken the government's case. To go around this, Judge Illston agreed to have a number of Bonds's former teammates and other players testify about their relationship with Anderson, and the fact that they knew he was supplying illegal drugs. Bonds's lawyers argued unsuccessfully that calling on players to testify was tantamount to attempting to prove guilt by mere association, but the judge rejected these arguments. The judge also allowed the introduction as evidence of the recording of a potentially incriminating conversation between Bonds and former business partner Hoskins, taped in 2003 in front of Bonds's locker, in which they discuss his use of PEDs; Bonds's lawyers argued unsuccessfully to have the recording excluded from the trial.

In his testimony, Steve Hoskins stated that Bonds had become interested in steroids when recovering from his 1999 elbow injury and had asked him to obtain more information on the subject from his personal surgeon, Dr. Arthur Ting. He claimed that he obtained the information, and then talked a number of times with Dr. Ting after that about the effects of steroids. He added that Bonds had begun to receive injections before the start of the 2000 season and that he had noticed important physical changes in his friend starting from that time. Former girlfriend Kimberly Bell's deposition was similar to Hoskins', detailing how Bonds began to use steroids in 1999, administered by personal trainer Anderson. She described the physiological and behavioral changes that she claims ensued, including hair loss, acne, impotence, and increasingly violent and threatening behavior.

Giants trainer Stan Conte said that he opposed the presence of Anderson and Harvey Shields, Bonds's personal trainers, in the team's clubhouse but did not receive support from GM Brian Sabean and manager Dusty Baker to kick them out. He also testified to changes in appearance in Bonds and described him as "an uncooperative patient" who refused to be weighed or to give information about his recovery from various injuries. Colorado Rockies 1B Jason Giambi, the first player to testify, stated that he had received performance-enhancing drugs and instructions on their use from Anderson. His brother Jeremy, who followed him on the witness stand, said that he had received the so-called "cream" and "clear" made by BALCO from Anderson, as did former Bonds teammate Marvin Benard who also testified. The younger Giambi added that it had been made very clear to him that the products were steroids designed to be undetectable by tests. Benard and Randy Velarde stated that they had bought PEDs directly from Anderson and that he had made the injections himself. After those first testimonies from former players, the prosecution decided to drop plans to also call on Bobby Estalella, Armando Rios and Benito Santiago, judging that the first four players called had already provided ample and unambiguous accounts in support of their theory.

The prosecution then provided evidence in the form of two positive urine samples seized from a test facility in Las Vegas, NV in 2004. They were part of MLB's 2003 survey of players to determine whether systematic testing would be introduced. Technicians from UCLA's Olympic Analytical Laboratory testified that one sample contained the synthetic steroid THG, testosterone not produced by the body, and a female fertility drug which is a known steroid precursor. The defense had objected to the introduction of this evidence, but Judge Illston allowed it. Bonds's personal surgeon, Dr. Arthur Ting, confirmed that he had provided Hoskins with literature on the effects of anabolic steroids in 1999, but denied that he had had any further conversations about the matter, contradicting Hoskins' earlier testimony. One of the most damaging testimonies for Bonds came from Hoskins' sister Kathy, who had been employed by Bonds as a personal shopper; she testified that she had seen Anderson inject Bonds with a substance in 2002, in direct contradiction to Bonds's statement to the BALCO grand jury. Although she did not know the contents of the syringe, the shot was in the belly button, the usual location for injections of human growth hormone.

The prosecution then tried to introduce as evidence a second, recently-uncovered tape, that was supposed to contradict Dr. Ting's testimony, but Judge Illston ruled to exclude it as it was barely audible and had little probative value. After a few other doping experts testified to explain the results of the UCLA laboratory tests, the prosecution decided to rest its case on April 5th.

In a somewhat surprising development, the defense decided not to call on any witnesses when its turn came. That meant that Barry Bonds would not speak in his own defense (thereby also avoiding the threat of cross-examination). Judge Illston also decided to drop one of the counts of perjury from the charges, in order to facilitate the jury's task, a decision that did not really affect Bonds's chances. The two sides thus moved to final arguments on April 7th.

In his closing argument, prosecutor Jeff Nedrow focused on the allegation that Bonds lied when he told the 2003 federal grand jury that he had never knowingly taken steroids, even though he had been granted immunity from prosecution. He argued that such falsehoods made under oath impaired the justice system. He speculated that Bonds wanted to hide the fact that his late-career success was achieved when he was using illegal drugs as part of his training regimen. For his part, defense lawyer Allen Ruby simply said that the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. He added that Bonds had not known he was receiving steroids when he was given "the cream" and "the clear" by trainer Anderson, and that his positive test was the result of unwilling consumption.

The Verdict[edit]

On April 13th, after four days of deliberation, the jury of eight women and four men announced its verdict of guilty on the count of obstruction of justice, although it could not come to an agreement regarding the three remaining perjury charges. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail, although a first-time offender like Bonds was likely to be sentenced to probation only.

The defense immediately requested that the verdict be thrown out, claiming it did not make any sense as Bonds was not found guilty of any of the perjury charges. Judge Illston was to rule on that request on May 20th, and also decide on what to do with the three charges that resulted in a hung jury. Sentencing was to follow this next round of decisions, but these were pushed back a number of times. Bonds's lawyers then filed a motion on June 15th asking Judge Illston to either acquit Bonds of the obstruction of justice charge, or grant him a new trial, a first step in attempting to have his conviction quashed, and the prosecution then requested more time to respond and to ponder whether they would seek a retrial for the undecided charges, a request which the judge granted on June 23rd. As a result, the parties only returned to court on August 25th, when they made oral arguments regarding whether the conviction should be maintained or overturned. Judge Illston did not issue a ruling, stating she would do so in writing at a later date. It did not take long in coming, however. A day later, she issued a 20-page ruling upholding Bonds's conviction on the obstruction of justice charge. The defense's next move was now to appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Satisfied with the one conviction they were able to obtain, the prosecution then decided to dismiss the three charges that resulted in a hung jury. In the meantime, Bonds's sentencing hearing was set for December 16th, when Judge Illston announced a sentence of two years' probation accompanied by 30 days of house arrest, a $4000 fine and 250 hours of community service. While prosecutors argued that the sentence was too lenient, the judge pointed out that this was Bonds's first-ever conviction, that the obstruction of justice was done neither blatantly nor threateningly, and that the sentence was consistent with punishment doled out in similar cases concerning athletes in other sports. As expected, Bonds's lawyers immediately filed an appeal against the sentence.

The Appeal[edit]

It took a while for the request for an appeal to be granted. In 2013, a three-judge panel upheld the conviction, but Bonds's lawyers launched another appeal. On July 1, 2014, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a special panel of 11 judges would review the initial verdict, with arguments to be heard the following September. This came after Bonds had already served his sentence and paid his fine. Finally, the verdict was handed on April 22, 2015 and his felony obstruction of justice conviction was overturned, meaning his legal record was now entirely clean. While some observers jumped on that decision to proclaim there was now no reason to keep Bonds out of the Hall of Fame, it was unlikely that the decision would sway many voters, as their reluctance to vote for Bonds was based on factors other than the strict legal standards of evidence which the courts were bound to follow.

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