Where's the justice? Bonds verdict leaves both sides unsatisfied
Barry Bonds' perjury trial ended in what could only be described as a draw
There was no "Say it ain't so!" moment for Bonds or for government officials
Bonds' guilt on the obstruction charge won't sway public opinion about him
SAN FRANCISCO -- Attorney Clarence Darrow once wrote that, "there is no such thing as justice -- in or out of court." Barry Bonds would probably agree, as might federal prosecutors, after the perjury trial of the former Giants outfielder ended on Wednesday in what could only be described as a draw.
After 16 days of speeches, testimony, more speeches and then deliberations, there was no defining verdict, no "Say it ain't so!" moment for Bonds or for the government officials who pursued him for more than seven years. Instead, a jury of eight women and four men came to a confusing conclusion that left both sides unsatisfied.
Faced with the question of whether Bonds lied before the BALCO grand jury in 2003 when he said he didn't knowingly take anabolic steroids or human growth hormone, the jurors couldn't decide. To the charge that Bonds provided false testimony when he stated that no one other than a doctor had ever injected him, they offered no answer.
The only verdict that the jurors rendered was to find that Bonds obstructed justice by providing an evasive answer to one question. In short, they found Bonds guilty of rambling, of dancing around a question, of being (for anyone who has ever interviewed him can attest) Barry Lamar Bonds.
After the verdict was read, defense attorney Allen Ruby pointed out that the Feds didn't get their man on what he called, "the heart of their case:" Bonds' claims that he didn't knowingly use performance-enhancing drugs. Federal prosecutors declined comment beyond a statement from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, who said she was "gratified by the guilty verdict."
The looks on the faces of Bonds' lawyers and prosecutors Jeff Nedrow and Matt Parrella conveyed a different truth. In room full of confident people used to winning, there were only losers on Wednesday.
To be sure, Bonds certainly did not deserve to walk away scot-free. He lied and/or was evasive "throughout his [grand jury] testimony," as one juror put it. If the panel had heard testimony from Greg Anderson, Bonds' former personal trainer and alleged steroid supplier, Bonds likely would have been found guilty on all counts. One female juror, asked if Anderson's testimony would have made a difference, said: "There was a missing piece to the puzzle... [Anderson] would have shed a lot of light on things. He would have been extremely helpful in connecting the dots."
Bonds was closer than he realized on Count Two, the charge that he lied when he said that no one other than a doctor had injected him. The jurors were unanimously in favor of a conviction on that count on Monday, but then decided to go home and sleep on it. The next day, a lone holdout emerged, and she remained against a conviction to the end.
Bonds wasn't the only one who crossed a line. The government knew long ago that Anderson would not testify, but chose to prosecute Bonds anyway. For some, that stands as the greater injustice. The time and taxpayer dollars spent pursuing Bonds could have been allocated more wisely, given that Bonds is unlikely to spend more than a few months in prison, if any time at all. (No sentencing date was announced; the defense is likely to appeal the verdict.). Sure, the publicity from his case might serve as a warning to others who consider lying before a grand jury, but a public-service announcement during, say, a Super Bowl broadcast would have cost less and been far more effective.
The presentation of the evidence was also not the government's finest hour. Prosecutors bumbled and had a star witness (Dr. Arthur Ting) turn on them. One perjury count was thrown out just before deliberations for a lack of evidence. One can only imagine what might have happened if instead of trying to prop up weak evidence toward the long-shot counts in the indictment, the government had focused solely on Count Two, for which the evidence was always the strongest.
There were mistakes on both sides, but the government's mishaps may prove more problematic going forward.
Bonds' guilt on the obstruction charge won't sway public opinion about him, won't change who he is or enhance his chances of making baseball's Hall of Fame. The government's semi-failure in its pursuit of Bonds, however, is sure to embolden others, such as Roger Clemens, whose trial on charges that he lied to Congress is scheduled to begin in July. Lance Armstrong, who is under federal investigation, might also feel a little more invincible (if that is possible) in the wake of the Bonds trial.
The government always had more to lose in this case because Bonds was the public face of the BALCO investigation -- if not its initial target -- and he will now walk without paying the fullest possible price. But as he walked out of the courthouse on Wednesday, Bonds didn't look like a winner, either.
He stood by Ruby as his lawyer took questions from reporters, and he smiled at a few passersby who shouted, "We still love you, Barry!" He waved at a bus full of children, some of whom yelled his name. Asked if he would be going out for a celebratory dinner that night, Bonds looked down, and he could have been speaking for everyone involved in USA v. Bonds when he said:
"There is nothing to celebrate."
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