Bonds Takes Center Stage, Pleads Not Guilty
Saturday, December 8, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 7 -- The judge entered the wood-paneled Room 10 on the 19th floor of the Philip Burton Federal Building at 9 o'clock sharp Friday morning. Seated before an American flag and the seal of the federal government, she dispensed with some procedural formalities, then asked the defendant to approach the bench and recite his name for the record. The defendant, bigger and more famous than anyone else in the room, lumbered forward, clasped his hands behind his back and bent down to reach the microphone.
"Uh," the man who has hit more runs than anyone in baseball history said softly, "Barry Bonds."
And so began U.S. District Court case No. 07-0732, the United States of America v. Barry Lamar Bonds. The charges: perjury (four counts) and obstruction of justice (one count), stemming from Bonds's testimony four years ago before a federal grand jury investigating a Bay Area steroid-distribution ring.
The words everyone had come to witness at Friday's hearing -- "Not guilty" -- were spoken not by Bonds, but by the lead attorney of his newly formed legal team, Allen Ruby. Other than reciting his name and age ("Forty-three," he said), Bonds's speaking was limited to yes or no answers.
"Barry Bonds is innocent," Ruby told a horde of reporters outside the courthouse moments later. "He has trust and faith in the justice system. He will defend these charges, and we are confident of a good outcome."
Bonds did not speak to the media, but posted a statement on his Web site saying, "I know that when this is all over, I will be vindicated because I am innocent."
The roughly 30-minute hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James and U.S. District Judge Susan Illston was Bonds's first court appearance since his Nov. 15 indictment on charges that he lied about his use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, and the public's first glimpse of him since Sept. 26, when he took off his San Francisco Giants uniform for the final time, the owner of a record 762 career home runs, seven more than Hank Aaron.
Among other legal issues resolved Friday, Bonds was released on an unsecured $500,000 personal-recognizance bond and granted the right to travel freely -- which the defense argued was essential to "practice his profession." A status conference was scheduled for Feb. 7, although other potential issues -- among them a prosecution motion regarding a potential conflict of interest on Bonds's legal team, and the defense's possible motion to dismiss charges due what is called undisclosed "defects" in the indictment -- could arise before then which could require Bonds's appearance in court.
The prosecution, headed by assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Parrella, entered the courtroom first at around 8:45 a.m., followed 11 minutes later by the defense. Bonds batted cleanup, with three lawyers preceding him into the room and three more behind him. He wore a dark suit, a light blue shirt, a blue-and-gray striped tie and no jewelry, save for a black-strapped silver watch on his right wrist.
At various points during the hearing Bonds appeared solemn, bored and jovial. While lawyers from each side greeted each other and made small talk prior to the start of the hearing, Bonds stood off to the side alone, with his hands in his pockets, while his wife, Liz, tapped her fingernails on the back of the wooden bench where she sat in the gallery. But when a supporter among the roughly 90 media members and others in attendance leaned over the railing during a break and asked how Bonds was doing, he smiled and said, "I'm okay," punctuating the words with a wink.
"Barry was fine with all this," said his longtime attorney, Michael Rains, outside the courthouse later. "We had talked to him in advance about what to expect today. So there were really no surprises from his standpoint. We were talking about people he was recognizing in the audience."
Little was learned Friday about the prosecution's case or the tenor of Bonds's defense. But it was the first glimpse of a new defense team that had come together only in the previous couple of days, after Bonds reportedly considered other high-profile lawyers only to balk at their fees. One person familiar with the case said Friday he expects the defense to cost Bonds between $1 million and $2 million.
Heavy on attorneys with appellate experience, the defense team also includes Cristina Arguedas, whose previous work representing track star Tim Montgomery in the Balco case could be the source of the prosecution's claims of conflict of interest -- since Balco clients could be called as witnesses in Bonds's trial.
If convicted on all charges, Bonds faces a maximum prison sentence of 30 years, although federal sentencing guidelines for first-time offenders would call for only 30 months. Legal experts have speculated that Bonds could probably get that time reduced to a matter of a few months by agreeing to a plea deal -- something Bonds's lawyers have publicly ruled out.
Bonds has expressed a desire to play a 23rd big league season, and his agent, Jeff Borris, said this week he believes Bonds will receive contract offers. One baseball executive said the Oakland Athletics are the only team known to have any interest in Bonds, who last year, despite his age, had the highest OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of any National League hitter with at least 450 plate appearances.
One possible reason the defense argued for Bonds to be able to travel freely beyond the United States is that A's play games each year in Toronto and open the 2008 season in Japan against the Boston Red Sox.
Outside the courthouse Friday television cameras and chanting Bonds supporters set up in front of the courthouse. In an office building across Golden Gate Avenue, office workers crowded around windows to witness the spectacle, which included two young women representing People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and wearing bikinis made of lettuce who offered samples of what they said were "steroids-free vegetarian sandwiches."
Soon, Bonds and his wife emerged from the courthouse and fought through the hordes, whereupon they were hustled into an awaiting SUV, and released into a gorgeous San Francisco morning, with the whole day and all its limitless possibilities ahead of them.