By Ronald Blum
SAN FRANCISCO – Barry Bonds stepped outside the Phillip Burton Federal Building for the first time as a convicted felon, and a school bus went by. The home-run king flashed a victory sign with two fingers.
After a 12-day trial and four days of deliberation, a jury had deadlocked on three charges he lied under oath. But Bonds was convicted on one count of obstruction of justice.
“Are you celebrating tonight?” one fan asked.
“There’s nothing to celebrate,” Bonds replied.
A mixed and muddled verdict Wednesday left both prosecutors and the defense feeling sorry and grateful.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston declared a mistrial on the three charges that Bonds made false statements when he told a grand jury in December 2003 he never knowingly received steroids and human growth hormone from trainer Greg Anderson and he allowed only doctors to inject him.
But a trial that had all to do with performance-enhancing drugs ended with a conviction that had nothing to do with them. The count the jury agreed on stated Bonds gave an evasive answer under oath. Rather than say “yes” or “no” to whether he received drugs that required a syringe, Bonds gave a rambling response to a grand jury, stating: “I became a celebrity child with a famous father.”
Though unsatisfied, both sides expressed a fraction of fulfillment following a trial that uncovered the dark practices of baseball’s Steroids Era.
“The counts which alleged steroids, which alleged needles, which alleged human growth hormone, those were mistried,” lead defense lawyer Allen Ruby said as Bonds, with a few days of stubble on his chin, stood slightly behind him and to the side. “There was no conviction, no verdict, no finding adverse to Barry Bonds.”
Melinda Haag, the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco, focused on the one count where the jury of eight women and four men was unanimous the government had proven its allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.
“This case is about upholding one of the most fundamental principles in our system of justice — the obligation of every witness to provide truthful and direct testimony in judicial proceedings,” she said in a statement. “In the United States, taking an oath and promising to testify truthfully is a serious matter. We cannot ignore those who choose instead to obstruct justice. We will decide whether to seek a retrial of the defendant on the remaining counts as soon as possible.”
Defense lawyers will try to persuade Illston or the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to toss out the lone conviction. Federal prosecutors must decide whether it is worth the time and expense to try Bonds for a second time on the deadlocked charges.
Dennis Riordan, one of the lawyers on Bonds’ legal team that numbered as many as 13 some days, asked Illston to throw out the guilty verdict and for a new trial on that count. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Parrella asked the judge to set a sentencing date. Instead, Illston announced a May 20 date for a status conference.
Now 46 and far trimmer than he appeared in the final years of his career, Bonds faces up to 10 years in prison on the obstruction conviction. Yet federal guidelines call for 15-21 months.
For similar offenses in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroids ring case, known as BALCO, Illston sentenced cyclist Tammy Thomas to six months of home confinement and track coach Trevor Graham to one year of home confinement.
Less than two miles from the ballpark where he broke Hank Aaron’s career home run record in August 2007, the seven-time National League MVP stood on the sidewalk on the courthouse’s north side while the jurors went out the south entrance. Many lingered to answer questions — but for now, most only would give their first names.
Amber, a 19-year-old blonde woman who was the youngest juror, said the final votes were 8-4 to acquit Bonds of lying about steroids and 9-3 to acquit him on lying about HGH use. The panel voted 11-1 to convict him of getting an injection from someone other than his doctor, with one woman holding out, she said.
Baseball’s season (73) and career (762) record-holder for home runs, Bonds testified before a grand jury that Anderson told him the substances he was giving Bonds were flaxseed oil and arthritic balm, and that Bonds didn’t know they were designer steroids.
“Did Greg ever give you anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with?” Bonds was asked.
His answer meandered, talking about his friendship with Anderson. The underlined part in the indictment, the crime he was convicted of, was this response in what was called Statement C in the jury instructions: “That’s what keeps our friendship. You know, I am sorry, but that — you know, that — I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation, you see.”
The jury instruction said that to be convicted, Bonds must be found to have “obstructed, influenced or impeded, or endeavored to obstruct, influence, or impede” the grand jury “by knowingly giving material testimony that was intentionally evasive, false or misleading.”
“The full grand jury testimony was a series of evasive answers,” said a 60-year-old juror, who identified himself only as Steve.
“When you’re in front of a grand jury you have to answer, and he gave a (expletive) answer,” said Fred Jacob, the 56-year-old jury foreman. “He gave a story rather than a yes-or-no answer.”
The defense plans to argue that Bonds’ answer wasn’t relevant to the grand jury. On April 6, in arguments over the jury instructions, Riordan quoted Karl Marx and told Illston: “If this trial is a tragedy, a conviction on (statements) C and D would be utterly a farce.”
The government “has determined it’s unlawful for Barry Bonds to tell the grand jury he’s a celebrity child and to talk about his friendship with Greg Anderson,” Ruby said.
The holdout on the “needle” count was a juror who identified herself as Nyiesha. She said she didn’t believe the testimony of Bonds’ personal shopper Kathy Hoskins, who told the jury she watched Anderson inject the slugger in the belly.
“They were family,” Nyiesha said of the Hoskins siblings. “That left me with reasonable doubt.”
Bonds faces a different type of judgment at the end of 2012 — the Baseball Writers’ Association of America — when he appears on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time.
Roger Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, also will be on the ballot then. He is scheduled for trial in federal court in Washington, D.C., starting July 6, on three counts of making false statements, two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of Congress for his denials of drug use. That case may be delayed by wrangling over evidence.
Jeff Novitzky, the federal investigator who aggressively led the BALCO investigation, is at the forefront of a different grand jury probing Lance Armstrong, who has won the Tour de France a record seven times.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig did not mention Bonds by name in a post-trial statement.
“This trial is a stark illustration of how far this sport has come,” he said.