By the time the prosecution finished its opening statement in United States v. Clemens, listing incriminating physical evidence of stupefying quantity to support its perjury charges, I was ready to bake Roger a large cake with a hacksaw inside it.
When the feds bring out photos of syringes with traces of steroids in them and say that the DNA belongs to you “to the exclusion of all other people on the planet,” it’s not a good start to the day. Can a jury deliver a verdict of really, really, really guilty?
However, our justice system is a marvel, especially if you can afford the best. By the time Clemens’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, had finished his opening statement for the defense, I wasn’t sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, whether or not it was still Wednesday.
For the casual fan, this trial may be easy lifting. Baseball has already found Clemens as good as guilty in the Mitchell Report, a kind of court of public opinion with no written rules of procedure. Few legal experts believe Clemens will serve jail time, even if found guilty. That’s easy to say when you’re not the one doing the jolt.
But for those in Courtroom 16, it’s going to be a long, hard summer, and they’ll have to endure it without an iota of the cavalier, voyeuristic entertainment value that this trial will offer with its celebrity witnesses and humiliating details.
The jurors truly deserve our admiration, thanks and pity. They’re the ones with the tough job. We all have points of view. But they are tasked with being the ultimate “judges of the facts” with a man’s freedom at stake. The gulf between fan and juror is immense and especially sobering in an information-saturated world where so many feel free to say anything about anybody, no matter how venomous, and shrug, “Well, that’s my opinion.”
For these 16 citizens, including four alternates, Wednesday was the first of many tedious and very serious days. “You may wonder why the prosecution needs to call 45 witnesses,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Durham said. Let’s see, maybe because We’re Not Losin’ This One.
Hide the sharp instruments in the jury room. This is going to take a while. Especially since part of Clemens’s strategy is to put the trial itself on trial. At one point, Clemens’s lawyer, referring to the congressional hearing at which Clemens voluntarily testified under oath, said “at the beginning of this circus . . .”
“This is not a circus,” said Walton, though his eyes were juggling knives. “Do you think this is a circus?” Hardin was asked directly.
“Your honor, do I look suicidal?” Hardin said.
Actually, Hardin is anything except what he appears to be, and Clemens is probably lucky to have him on his side. The Texas lawyer is so smart that playing dumb comes easy. His style and tactics were on display immediately. He jumps between subjects, as if a bit addled, with the result that he seldom connects too many dots. He mentions to the jury that he’s getting older and worries that the phrases he uses are out of date.