Closing arguments in Clemens trial

June 12, 2012

Roger Clemens was either the victim of a pathological liar or someone who spun a web of lies to protect his legacy as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.

The divergent portraits emerged during dramatic closing arguments Tuesday in the baseball legend’s lengthy perjury trial in the District’s federal court. Clemens is accused of lying to Congress in 2008 when he denied having taken performance-enhancing drugs, and jurors are expected to begin deliberating in earnest Wednesday afternoon.

For Clemens, whose reputation has already been so badly marred by the allegations that his election to the Hall of Fame is unlikely, the trial carries real risk: He faces potential prison time if convicted.

But the stakes are also high for federal prosecutors and federal agents who not only invested enormous resources in their investigation of Clemens but also failed to secure a clear victory in last year’s trial of Barry Bonds, another baseball legend accused of lying about having taken performance-enhancing drugs.

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday crafted a narrative of a man who was the victim of his own hubris, accusing Clemens of lying to Congress about never having taken steroids or human growth hormone despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They urged jurors to convict the baseball legend on all six counts of perjury, false statements and obstruction of Congress.

“He made many choices,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gilberto Guerrero Jr. said. “He chose to lie, he chose to mislead, he chose to make false statements.”

Clemens’s defense lawyers countered that the seven-time Cy Young Award winner never took performance-enhancing drugs. The 49-year-old former pitching ace earned his success through hard work and determination, they said, not drugs.

“What has happened in this case is a horrible, horrible overreach by the government,” said Rusty Hardin, Clemens’s lead attorney, who showed jurors a map illustrating the 179 people interviewed in 68 locations as part of the investigation.

Hardin and his co-counsel, Michael Attanasio, argued that the real liar was Clemens’s chief accuser, a former strength Brian McNamee.

Over several days of testimony, McNamee reiterated what he told Congress in 2008: that he injected Clemens with steroids or human growth hormone in 1998, 2000 and 2001 at the pitcher’s request.

Hardin told jurors that McNamee could not be trusted because he was a “pathological liar” who “spun a web” to save his hide when federal authorities began investigating him for selling performance-enhancing drugs to ballplayers and others.

“Brian McNamee defines reasonable doubt,” Attanasio told jurors. “If Brian McNamee told you something, in one of graver matters of your life, would you take that to the bank?”

Attanasio also assailed as “garbage” physical evidence that McNamee gave federal authorities in 2008. McNamee testified that he kept syringes and other medical waste from injections he gave Clemens and other ball players.

He stored the paraphernalia in a beer can and FedEx box, and forensic experts testified that they found Clemens’s DNA and traces of steroids on one of those needles. Two cotton balls also contained Clemens’s DNA. Attanasio, however, called such physical evidence meaningless because it was “contaminated, whether unintentionally or intentionally.”

Prosecutors countered that McNamee did not fabricate the evidence and jurors could believe his story that he kept the material to protect himself if Clemens ever turned on him.

“If he was framing him, wouldn’t he have done a better job?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Courtney Saleski argued.

To acquit Clemens, Saleski said, jurors would have “to believe [McNamee] told lies, fabricated evidence — all to take down a man he idolized.” By all accounts, McNamee and Clemens were friends until the strength coach’s allegations became public in 2007.

Saleskisaid McNamee was the “perfect candidate” for Clemens to enlist to inject him with steroids and human growth hormone.

“This was a secret drug transaction,” she said. Clemens continued to employ McNamee even after his contract with the Yankees ended because, Saleski said, “he had his dirty little secret.”

Prosecutors further sought to buttress McNamee through the testimony of Andy Pettitte, one of Clemens’ best friends. Pettitte told jurors that in 1999 or 2000 Clemens confided that he had taken human growth hormone to help him recover from intense workouts. However, under cross-examination, Pettitte agreed there was a “50-50” chance that he had misheard or misunderstood his friend.

The four-plus hours of closing arguments capped a trial that started April 16 and involved testimony from more than 40 witnesses. Jurors briefly began deliberating Tuesday before being dismissed.

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