Federal prosecutors today pruned back their indictment of former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, dropping six felony counts of lying under oath about his alleged use of banned drugs.
Bonds now faces four charges of perjury and one charge of obstruction of justice, all in connection with his testimony before the grand jury that investigated the BALCO sports steroid scandal in 2003.
Jury selection for the trial of baseball’s home run champion is set to begin March 21 in federal court in San Francisco.
Bonds has pleaded not guilty. In the grand jury testimony that is at issue, he said he had never knowingly used banned drugs.
Several of the charges dropped by the government referred to evidence that Judge Susan Illston has ruled off-limits in the trial, court records show.
The government had planned to prove its case with the results of private steroid tests that Bonds’ trainer, Greg Anderson, allegedly had arranged via the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative in Burlingame, the enterprise run by confessed steroid dealer Victor Conte.
Prosecutors also wanted the jury to see doping calendars allegedly kept by Anderson to track Bonds’ drug use.
The private tests showed that Bonds was using an array of steroids, and the calendars show when he was taking them, the government says. The government seized the documents in raids on BALCO and Anderson's home.
But Anderson refused to assist the government in its probe of Bonds, serving more than a year in prison for contempt of court rather than testify before the grand jury that investigated the baseball star. Anderson has said he will also refuse to testify in Bonds’ trial, and the government has indicated it will seek to send him back to prison.
Without Anderson to authenticate the tests and the calendars, the prosecutors cannot present them to the jury, the judge ruled.
Four of the counts dropped from the indictment accused Bonds of lying in answers to questions that pertained to the doping calendars, a review of the documents shows.
Two other dropped counts accused Bonds of lying in what proved to be rambling answers to questions about his use of flax seed oil and an arthritis balm – actually, the designer BALCO steroids called “the Clear” and “the Cream,” the government says. For example, in response to a question about whether Anderson ever gave him substances other than vitamins and proteins, Bonds replied, in part:
I was fatigued, tired, just needed recovery, you know. … And Greg came to the ballpark and he said, you know: ‘This will help you recover,' and he rubbed some cream on my arm, like, some lotion-type stuff, and like, gave me some flax seed oil, that’s what he called it, called it some flax seed oil, man. It’s like: ‘Whatever, dude.’
And I was at the ballpark, whatever, I don’t care. What’s lotion going to do to me? How many times have I heard, ‘This is going to rub into you and work?’ Let him be happy. We’re friends. You know?
To win a perjury conviction, the government must prove Bonds lied on purpose about a relevant fact, experts say.
Bonds’ prospective sentence if convicted wouldn’t necessarily be reduced because the indictment has been pruned back. Legal experts say sentencing guidelines would still likely call for a maximum term of 24 to 30 months in federal prison. Also, the judge has been reluctant to throw the book at sports figures convicted of lying about steroids.
In 2009, after a jury convicted the Olympic track coach Trevor Graham of lying to federal agents about steroid distribution, the judge sentenced him to house arrest.
The filing of the new indictment marked the fourth time prosecutors have asked a grand jury to revise the charges against Bonds. Initially, in 2007, he was indicted on four charges of perjury and one charge of obstruction. The following year, after Bonds’ legal team objected to technical flaws in that indictment, the government presented a new one, this one with 15 charges. After more legal wrangling, the government offered yet another indictment, accusing Bonds of 11 felonies.