The Roger Clemens trial: Defense team gets aggressive
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WASHINGTON -- Roger Clemens' tenacious pursuit of victory on the pitcher's mound is re-emerging as he enters federal court this week to fight charges he lied about using drugs and to try to ruthlessly discredit the former friend who says he did.
Clemens is charged with perjury, false statements and obstruction of Congress for telling a House committee under oath that he never used performance-enhancing drugs in his 23-season career. The record-setting pitcher who once seemed a sure bet for baseball's Hall of Fame could face prison if 12 jurors agree that he lied and unanimously agree to convict him.
The trial of the United States vs. William R. Clemens, scheduled to begin Wednesday and last 4-6 weeks, will bring a parade of celebrity athletes and plenty of sordid details to the staid Washington federal courthouse. It will feature testimony about illicit drugs, bloody evidence of injections, an abscess on Clemens' backside allegedly caused by steroid use and allegations that his accuser is a serial liar and rapist.
Clemens is not the only All-Star baseball player to be criminally charged for lying about drug use, and prosecutors have a mixed record. Infielder Miguel Tejada pleaded guilty in 2009 to a misdemeanor for withholding information about an ex-teammate's use of drugs when questioned in '05 by congressional investigators.
In their first jury test, however, prosecutors were able to convict home run king Barry Bonds of just one count of obstruction of justice in April for giving an evasive answer to a grand jury when asked about drug use.
The jury deadlocked on the three remaining counts that Bonds made a false statement by saying he never knowingly received steroids and human growth hormone from his trainer.
But, unlike the Bonds trial, where the trainer who allegedly provided injections refused to testify against his former boss and friend, Clemens' strength trainer, Brian McNamee, is the prosecution's leading witness.
For a decade, McNamee worked out intensely with Clemens and helped shape "The Rocket" into one of the most powerful pitchers in the major leagues, even into middle age. McNamee also said he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone and kept the used needles that will be key scientific evidence at trial.
But McNamee, a former New York City police officer, is not an ideal witness for the prosecution. He acted as a drug dealer to several major league players and acknowledges he has not always told the truth when asked about Clemens' drug use and other matters. McNamee initially denied giving Clemens drugs, he said out of loyalty to his best and longtime client, but eventually admitted to federal agents he injected the seven-time Cy Young Award winner.
Clemens' main defense has been to discredit McNamee, whom Clemens' attorneys described in a recent court filing as "the only person in the entire world who has ever alleged that he witnessed Mr. Clemens use performance enhancing drugs at any time in his storied career."
Clemens' lawyers accuse McNamee of being a "congenital liar" who made up the allegations against their client to save himself from drug charges. They also want to introduce evidence that in 2001 McNamee drugged and raped a woman, then lied to police who investigated the allegation but never charged McNamee with a crime.
"If Mr. McNamee's mouth is moving, he's making an inconsistent statement," Clemens attorney Rusty Hardin said during a recent hearing.
Prosecutors are fighting to keep out evidence of the sexual assault investigation and plan to call several witnesses to back up McNamee's allegations against Clemens. Among them are Clemens' former Yankee teammates Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch and Mike Stanton, who all admit getting performance enhancing drugs from McNamee.
Pettitte is particularly important because he's the only witness besides McNamee who has said he spoke with Clemens about his drug use.
The six felony counts against Clemens stem from the House Government Reform Committee's 2008 investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.
First Published July 5, 2011 12:00 am