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2:20 am
Mon April 16, 2012

Clemens Faces Trial (Again) Over Doping Testimony

Originally published on Mon April 16, 2012 8:06 am

Baseball star Roger Clemens goes on trial for a second time Monday on charges that he lied to a congressional committee about using steroids and human growth hormone. His trial on perjury and obstruction charges last summer ended abruptly when prosecutors mistakenly showed the jury evidence that the judge had ruled inadmissible.

Clemens won a record seven Cy Young awards during his storied pitching career, but prosecutors contend that he used steroids and human growth hormone to prolong that career.

The pitcher, whose fastball was so powerful that he earned the nickname "The Rocket," is not charged with illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs. Rather, Clemens is charged with lying about using them in 2008 when he testified before a congressional subcommittee that was investigating the use of these drugs in baseball.

A Long Path

His statements, made under oath, led to six different charges of perjury, false statements and obstructing a congressional investigation. If convicted, he faces a maximum prison term of 30 years, though under federal sentencing guidelines he would most likely get a sentence of 15 to 21 months.

Clemens has traveled a longer-than-usual path in the criminal justice system. His trial last July was aborted shortly after opening statements when federal prosecutors placed evidence before jurors previously ruled inadmissible. A furious Judge Reggie Walton then declared a mistrial, telling the prosecutors that he did not see how he could "un-ring this bell" for the jury.

On Monday, jury selection begins for a second trial.

Prosecutors contend that Clemens sought to pump up his sagging career in the three-year period between 1998 and 2001 by having himself injected with steroids and human growth hormone. They maintain that he lied about his drug use to maintain his good reputation and to ensure that he would qualify for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The heart of the case against Clemens is the evidence produced by his one-time trainer, Brian McNamee, who is expected to testify that he repeatedly injected Clemens with steroids and HGH.

At the opening of Clemens first trial, the chief prosecutor conceded that the jury would hear many "bad things" about McNamee, things that might undermine the trainer's credibility. But prosecutors said McNamee's testimony would be buttressed by physical evidence — syringes and cotton balls that the trainer says he held on to in order to prove that Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs.

At the first trial, the chief prosecutor told the jury that two independent labs had confirmed that the syringes and cotton balls showed traces of steroids, HGH and Clemens' DNA.

Chain Of Custody

But Clemens' lawyer, Rusty Hardin, countered that the evidence had been manufactured by McNamee. Clemens' lawyers are expected to highlight the fact that, even in McNamee's telling, the trainer kept the syringes in his closet for roughly two years before producing them to investigators when he became the target of the investigation into steroid use in baseball.

"There's going to be a fight over what lawyers call chain of custody," says Stan Brand, a criminal defense lawyer not involved in the case. "The government is going to have to prove that [the evidence] wasn't tampered [with] or adulterated in that period. And the defense is going to attack the legitimacy of this evidence."

Brand, who is also the vice president of minor league baseball in the U.S., also says the defense will attack McNamee's character and credibility.

The star prosecution witness at the trial will be yet another big-name baseball player, Clemens' longtime friend, teammate and fellow pitcher, Andy Pettitte, who is expected to testify that Clemens once admitted to him that he was using performance-enhancing drugs.

Clemens does not contend that Pettitte is lying. He says his old friend must have misunderstood or misheard what he said.

Clemens began his career with the Boston Red Sox in 1984 and later played for the Toronto Blue Jays, the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros before retiring in 2007 at age 44. With 4,672 career strikeouts and 354 wins, Clemens is third on the all-time strikeout list.

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Transcript

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

Baseball star Roger Clemens goes on trial for a second time today on charges that he lied to a congressional committee about using steroids and human growth hormones. His trial on perjury and obstruction charges last summer ended in a mistrial. Prosecutors had mistakenly showed the jury evidence that the judge had ruled inadmissible.

NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Pitcher Roger Clemens won a record seven Cy Young awards during his storied career, but prosecutors contend that he used steroids and HGH to prolong that career. Clemens, whose fastball was so powerful that he earned the nickname "the rocket," is not charged with using steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. Rather, he's charged with lying about it when he testified before a congressional subcommittee that was investigating the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in baseball.

ROGER CLEMENS: Let me be clear, I have never taken steroids or HGH.

TOTENBERG: That and other statements he made under oath led to six different charges of perjury, false statements, and obstructing a congressional investigation. If convicted, he faces a maximum prison term of 30 years. But under federal sentencing guidelines, would most likely get a sentence of 15 to 21 months.

Clemens has travelled a longer-than-usual path in the criminal justice system. His trial last July was aborted shortly after opening statements when federal prosecutors placed before jurors evidence previously ruled inadmissible. A furious Judge Reggie Walton then declared a mistrial, telling the prosecutors that he did not see how he could, quote, "un-ring this bell" for the jury.

Today, jury selection begins for a second trial. Prosecutors contend that Clemens sought to pump up his sagging career in the three-year period between 1998 and 2001 by having himself injected with steroids and human growth hormone. And they contend, he then lied about it repeatedly under oath.

The heart of the case against Clemens is the evidence produced by his one-time trainer, Brian McNamee, who's expected to testify that he repeatedly injected Clemens with steroids and HGH.

At the opening of Clemens first trial, the chief prosecutor conceded that the jury would hear many bad things about McNamee, things that might undermine the trainer's credibility. But the prosecutor said the testimony will be buttressed by syringes and cotton balls McNamee says he kept to prove that Clemens used performance enhancing drugs.

At the first trial, the prosecutor told the jury that two independent labs had confirmed that the syringes and cotton balls showed traces of steroids, HGH, and Clemens' DNA. But Clemens lawyer, Rusty Hardin, countered that the evidence had been manufactured by McNamee. And indeed, the trainer says he did keep the syringes in his closet for some two years before producing them to investigators when he became the target of the investigation into steroid use in baseball.

Stan Brand, a criminal defense lawyer who's also vice president of Minor League Baseball in the United States, highlights that bone of contention.

STAN BRAND: There's going to be a fight over what lawyers call chain of custody. The government's going to have to prove that this wasn't tampered or adulterated in that period. And the defense will attack the legitimacy of this evidence.

TOTENBERG: The star prosecution witness at the trial will be yet another baseball big name, Clemens' longtime friend, Andy Pettitte, who's expected to testify that Clemens once admitted to him that he was using performance enhancing drugs. Clemens doesn't contend Pettitte is lying. He says his old friend must have misunderstood or misheard what he said.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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NEARY: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.