A federal judge tonight rejected baseball slugger Barry Bonds’ plea to overturn his felony conviction for obstruction of justice in a trial on steroid-related perjury charges.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Ilston clears the way for the former San Francisco Giants’ star’s sentencing. He faces a potential term of more than two years in prison, although many experts believe he may only be sentenced to house arrest.
Bonds, who holds baseball’s career record for home runs, was indicted on charges of lying to the federal grand jury that investigated the BALCO sports steroids scandal. In his 2003 testimony, he denied knowingly using steroids.
He was charged with lying under oath to the grand jury and with obstructing justice for allegedly interfering with their probe.
After a two-week trial that ended in April, the jury failed to reach unanimous verdicts on three perjury charges. They deadlocked 11-to-1 in favor of convicting Bonds for lying about receiving an injection from his weight trainer, confessed BALCO steroid dealer Greg Anderson, and they deadlocking in favor of acquittal on two other perjury counts.
In her ruling, the judge rejected all of Bonds’ arguments. She wrote: “The record supports a finding, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the question was material to the grand jury’s investigation of BALCO and Greg Anderson for unlawfully distributing performance enhancing drugs, and that defendant endeavored to obstruct the grand jury by not answering it when it was first asked.”
The judge has not set a sentencing date.
The jury convicted Bonds of obstruction, saying he had intentionally sought to mislead the grand jury when he gave a rambling answer to a query about whether Anderson had ever provided him with injectable drugs. Bonds ducked the question, responding with a monologue in which he observed that he had been a “celebrity child” and hadn’t chosen to play baseball.
Bonds had replied:
I’ve only had one doctor touch me. And that’s my only personal doctor. Greg, like I said, we don’t get into each other's personal lives. We’re friends, but I don’t – we don’t sit around and talk baseball, because he knows I don’t want – don’t come to my house talking baseball.
If you want to come to my house and talk about fishing, some other stuff, we’ll be good friends, you come around talking about baseball, you go on. I don’t talk about his business. You know what I mean? …
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.
After the trial, Bonds’ legal team asked the judge to overturn the verdict, saying it was unsupported by the evidence. Bonds lawyer Dennis Riordan also argued that it was unfair for Bonds to stand convicted of obstruction when the jury didn’t find he had lied under oath. Bonds’ response to the question was literally true, he also said.
But the government said the jury was within its rights in returning the verdict. Prosecutor Merry Chan said there was nothing innocent about Bonds' answer. It was “rambling, corruptly intended to evade, mislead and provide false testimony,” she told the judge.