Photo by Kevin Rushforth
Baseball players who say they got steroids from Barry Bonds’ weight trainer will be permitted to testify at the homerun champion’s upcoming perjury trial, a judge ruled Friday.
At a hearing in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Judge Susan Illston rebuffed a plea from Bonds’ legal team to bar the players, including former American League Most Valuable player Jason Giambi, from appearing as government witnesses at the March 21 trial.
Defense lawyer Dennis Riordan said the players’ testimony might amount to “guilt by association,” but the judge disagreed. She emphasized that her ruling was tentative and she might revisit it.
Bonds, the former Giants slugger and holder of baseball’s career home run record, is accused of lying under oath when he told a federal grand jury in 2003 that he had never knowingly used banned drugs. Indicted on 11 counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, he has pleaded not guilty.
The government says Bonds obtained banned drugs from the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative steroid lab in Burlingame and from his trainer, confessed steroid dealer Greg Anderson.
In legal filings, the government has said that Giambi and five other players claim that Anderson got them BALCO steroids after they met the trainer via Bonds.
In addition to Giambi, the players are former Giants Benito Santiago, Marvin Benard and Armando Rios and former Oakland A’s Randy Velarde and Jeremy Giambi, Jason’s brother. Jason Giambi, a former star with the A’s and New York Yankees, played for the Colorado Rockies last season. The other players are retired.
Former pro football linebacker Larry Izzo, a onetime star with the New England Patriots and another reputed BALCO customer, is also on the government’s witness list.
Bonds, wearing a black suit and appearing noticeably slimmer than he was in his playing days, attended Friday’s hearing, accompanied by four lawyers. It’s one of the last pre-trial hearings in a case that was delayed for two years while prosecutors unsuccessfully appealed the judge’s decision to exclude the drug tests.
Before the hearing began, Bonds sat at the counsel table, chatting casually with criminal defense specialist Cristina Arguedas. Bonds didn’t address the court or speak to reporters afterward.
Federal prosecutors had hoped to show the jury documents seized in a 2003 raid on BALCO to prove Bonds’ steroid use.
But the judge has put much of that evidence off limits, including private drug test results that show Bonds was using banned drugs.
The private tests were handled by Anderson, according to evidence in the case. But Anderson has refused to testify. He served more than a year in prison for contempt of court instead.
Without the trainer to verify that the tested blood and urine came from Bonds, the evidence amounts to inadmissible hearsay, the judge has ruled.
After the tests were excluded, the defense asked the judge to ban the players’ testimony, contending it would wrongly invite the jury to conclude that Bonds had gotten drugs from Anderson because the other players had gotten drugs from him. But prosecutors argued that the players should be allowed to testify about their own interactions with the trainer and BALCO.
Also at the hearing, the judge agreed to expand the customary admonition to jurors that they not read news accounts of the case. Jurors also will be told not to Google Barry Bonds and not to search Facebook or Twitter for information about him, the judge said. Bonds wants “a trial in which the only evidence the jury is looking at is legally admissible,” said defense lawyer Arguedas.
Finally, the judge said she wanted to bring Anderson back into court one more time before the trial starts to see if he has changed his mind about testifying. People who know the trainer say he is determined not to testify. If he won’t, prosecutors have indicated they will try to have him put back in jail for contempt.