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Bonds should not serve prison time, probation officer says

U.S. District Court

A federal probation officer says former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds should not be required to serve prison time for his conviction on a charge of obstruction of justice, Bonds’ lawyer revealed in a filing today.

Bonds was found guilty in April for evading a federal grand jury’s questions about his use of steroids and other banned drugs from the BALCO drug lab.

His jury deadlocked on three perjury charges. Sentencing is set for Dec. 16, and by law, Bonds could face more than two years in prison.

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But after a pretrial investigation, a probation officer concluded that Bonds’ “illegal and criminal” behavior  appeared to be “an aberration when taken in context of his entire life,” defense lawyer Allen Ruby wrote, quoting from the report. The report itself is not public.

The probation officer also opined that Bonds’ sentence should not take into account Bonds’ “steroid use and how this use impacts his stature” as a ball player, Ruby wrote, quoting from the document, but should focus on the crime for which he actually was convicted.

Rather than a prison term, the probation officer suggested that Bonds be sentenced to community service, especially with young people.

“It is believed Mr. Bonds can use his status, as well as his past record of giving to youth-related causes for some beneficial and significant impact to society,” the probation officer wrote, by the defense lawyer’s account.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston may consider the probation officer’s recommendation before imposing a sentence. Prosecutors have not yet expressed an opinion on Bonds’ sentence.

Bonds, who holds baseball’s career and single-season home run records, was the most prominent sports star caught up in the steroids scandal centered at the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative in Burlingame. On Dec. 4, 2003, Bonds testified before a grand jury that was investigating the BALCO steroids ring.

Bonds testified that he had never knowingly used banned drugs and said his trainer, confessed steroid dealer Greg Anderson, had supplied him only with flaxseed oil and arthritis cream – not the BALCO designer steroids “the clear” and “the cream.”

Prosecutors said Bonds repeatedly lied during the testimony and contended that he sought to deflect and evade the government’s questions. Those evasions led to Bonds’ conviction for obstruction of justice.

According to the defense lawyer’s account, the probation officer cited Bonds’ “history of prior good works” as a reason for not imposing a prison term. As a player, Bonds often was criticized for rude and selfish behavior. But his lawyer wrote that Bonds has “deliberately chosen not to use the many years he has devoted to causes that he values to enhance his public stature as an athlete and a celebrity.”

The lawyer quoted from a letter written by a Children's Hospital nurse, who described Bonds as "unfailingly kind and attentive" on his visits to children who are gravely ill.

The probation officer noted that Illston, the judge, has not imposed a prison term on any other athlete convicted in a BALCO case. In 2008, bicycle racer Tammy Thomas and elite track coach Trevor Graham were convicted of lying about their involvement with performance-enhancing drugs, and both were sentenced to house arrest. Dana Stubblefield, former lineman for the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, pleaded guilty to investigators about steroid use and also avoided prison, getting a probation sentence in 2009.

Former track champion Marion Jones was sentenced in 2008 to six months in prison for two unrelated charges – lying about her use of BALCO drugs and participating in a check forgery ring. That case was prosecuted in New York.

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