A federal judge in San Francisco heard 30 minutes of arguments but made no immediate decision today on whether to overturn the obstruction-of-justice conviction of home-run champion Barry Bonds.
“The matter will be submitted. I’ll get you a written opinion and then we’ll set a date for future proceedings,” U.S. District Judge Susan Illston told attorneys after hearing the arguments.
The obstruction charge is the only count on which the former San Francisco Giants outfielder was convicted by a jury in Illston’s court after a three-week trial in March and April.
The jury deadlocked on three other charges that Bonds lied in 2003 testimony before a federal grand jury investigating steroids distribution by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO.
Prosecutors haven’t announced whether they will retry Bonds on those charges, nor have they said when they will reveal their decision.
The obstruction conviction was for giving evasive testimony to the 2003 grand jury in answer to a prosecutor’s question about whether Bonds’ trainer, Greg Anderson, ever gave him “anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with.”
Bonds gave a rambling answer in which he referred to himself as a “celebrity child” of a famous ballplayer father and said, “I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation, you see.”
Bonds’ lawyers say that response, while “temporarily unresponsive,” was not untruthful and that the slugger did answer the same question less than two minutes later when he denied that Anderson ever gave him a liquid to inject himself with.
Defense attorney Dennis Riordan argued, “It’s preposterous to suggest there was evasion or obstruction when the prosecutor himself within one or two minutes” repeated the question and got an answer.
Bonds’ attorneys are asking Illston either to grant a judgment of acquittal or to order a new trial on that count.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Merry Chan, a member of the prosecution team, urged Illston to keep the conviction in place, arguing that Bonds’ answer was “rambling that was corruptly intended to evade, mislead and give the grand jury false testimony.”
“He could have said ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It was a very clear question,” Chan told the judge.
The three other counts in which Bonds was accused of lying to the grand jury concerned answers to slightly different questions.
In those responses, Bonds denied he had ever been injected by Anderson and that he had ever knowingly taken steroids or human growth hormone.
Bonds, 47, who was present at today’s hearing but did not speak, set Major League Baseball’s all-time home-run record of 762 during his last season with the San Francisco Giants in 2001.
He is one of 11 people who were indicted during the BALCO investigation on charges of either illegally distributing drugs or lying to the grand jury or federal agents. The others all pleaded guilty or were convicted of various charges.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News