By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2007
Barry Bonds, the most prolific slugger in baseball history and holder of the most cherished record in American sports, was indicted yesterday on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, stemming from his testimony to a federal grand jury four years ago that he had not knowingly used steroids.
Bonds, 43, faces a maximum of 30 years in prison if convicted on the four perjury charges and one obstruction of justice charge being brought against him for allegedly lying under oath. An arraignment has been scheduled for Dec. 7 at U.S. District Court in San Francisco, with a trial unlikely to begin until late next spring at the earliest.
"During the criminal investigation, evidence was obtained including positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances for Bonds and other athletes," the indictment read, before detailing parts of Bonds's testimony in December 2003, with the allegedly perjured statements underlined.
Bonds's legal status had been hanging over professional baseball for nearly four years, providing a public face to a controversy involving the use of performance-enhancing drugs by elite athletes and creating a murky backdrop to Bonds's pursuit this summer of Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. With yesterday's indictment, one key question was answered -- until the indictment was unsealed, Bonds never had been revealed to have failed a drug test -- but others were posed, such as what to do with Bonds's records and legacy if he is convicted.
Michael Rains, Bonds's attorney, criticized prosecutors for not providing Bonds's defense with a copy of the indictment, saying in a statement, "Now that their biased allegations must finally be presented openly in a court of law, they won't be able to hide their unethical misconduct from the public any longer."
Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig released a statement saying, "While everyone in America is considered innocent until proven guilty, I take this indictment very seriously and will follow its progress closely."
President Bush, the former owner of the Texas Rangers, also reacted to the news. "The president is very disappointed to hear this," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "As this case is now in the criminal justice system, we will refrain from any further specific comments about it. But clearly this is a sad day for baseball."
That Bonds, baseball's all-time home run king and its most polarizing figure, would be accused of using steroids is hardly surprising. His transformation from a lithe leadoff hitter in the 1990s to the hulking slugger who destroyed many of the most sacred records in baseball during this decade has long drawn scrutiny, and it was widely known that the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California had been pursuing perjury charges against Bonds.
However, the timing of the indictment stunned the baseball world, which until yesterday was more concerned with where Bonds, a free agent after the San Francisco Giants cut him loose after this season, would be playing in 2008. It came nearly four years since Bonds's original grand jury testimony in the investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative, a San Francisco area nutritional supplements lab known as Balco, and after months in which there had been no visible evidence of progress in the government's case.
Hours after the indictment was handed down, a federal judge ordered Greg Anderson, Bonds's personal trainer and a central figure in the Balco case, released from prison, where he had been serving for much of the past year for refusing to testify against Bonds. Anderson's lawyer, Mark Geragos, said his client did not change his mind about testifying.
"Not only has he not changed his mind, he's more incensed than ever," Geragos said in a telephone interview. "He was misled. The only reason he went into custody was because the government said it could not make its case without his cooperation."
Still, the government's case against Bonds "looks pretty strong," said Wayne Cohen, an adjunct professor at George Washington University Law School and past president of the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington D.C. "The standard [for guilt] on perjury and obstruction cases is easier to prove than it would be on the underlying steroids case, and all they need are documents and a witness, and the government will be able to make its case."
Only three months ago, Bonds became baseball's all-time home run king, hitting career home run No. 756 off Washington Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik to break Aaron's cherished record. Although Bonds, his family and teammates, and much of San Francisco reacted to the moment with all the emotion one would typically expect from such a momentous occasion, much of the rest of the country -- including Selig, who wavered for months on whether to attend the record-breaking game -- reacted with ambivalence or worse, owing largely to Bonds's attachment to the steroids scandal.
"This is ugly," former commissioner Fay Vincent said of yesterday's news. "But the lesson of history is that baseball can take more severe shots than this. I think the public has pretty well digested that this could happen."
Bonds, who has won an unprecedented seven most valuable player awards, is the third athlete and fourth sports figure to face perjury charges in connection with the Balco probe. Last month, five-time Olympic medal winner Marion Jones pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about her steroid use before and after the 2000 Summer Games. Track cyclist Tammy Thomas and Jones's former coach, Trevor Graham, were indicted last year on perjury charges; both cases could go to trial next month.
"All those who value clean sport commend the federal investigators for their vigilant pursuit of the truth in order to hold those involved in the Balco doping conspiracy responsible," Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said in a telephone interview.
Six people, including Jones, have been convicted in the Balco probe. The others are Balco founder Victor Conte; Balco vice president Jim Valente; Anderson; Balco chemist Patrick Arnold; and track and field coach Remi Korchemny. None went to trial; all accepted plea bargains.
Staff writers Amy Shipley, Barry Svrluga and Michael Abramowitz and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.