After deliberating almost nine hours over two days, a U.S. District Court jury today convicted Philadelphia caterer Curtis Strong on 11 of 14 counts of selling cocaine to major league baseball players between 1980 and 1984.
After the verdict was read and Strong was led away by two U.S. marshals, Judge Gustave Diamond announced he was citing defense attorney Adam Renfroe Jr. for contempt of court for conduct "absolutely reprehensible" during Thursday's closing arguments of the 14-day trial. Renfroe was sentenced to 30 days in jail. The sentence was stayed pending an appeal.
Renfroe had based much of his defense on attacking the credibility of the seven player-witnesses and the immunity from prosecution granted them and other players, among them some of the biggest names in professional baseball. The prosecution said it granted the immunity only because there was no other way to build a case.
The testimony was at times shocking. There was testimony that Willie Stargell and Bill Madlock had dispensed amphetamines. Even Willie Mays, one of the greatest players in the history of the game, was mentioned as having possessed amphetamines, although he denied it. And National League runs-batted-in leader Dave Parker admitted not only to using cocaine but to arranging purchases for other players and making arrangements for another accused cocaine dealer to travel occasionally on Pittsburgh Pirates team flights.
The jury of nine women and three men found Strong guilty of selling cocaine three times each to Lonnie Smith, now of the Kansas City Royals; Parker, now of the Cincinnati Reds, and Enos Cabell, now of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and twice to former Pirate John Milner.
The jury acquitted Strong on one count each of selling to Parker, Cabell and Jeff Leonard of the San Francisco Giants. Two other counts returned by a grand jury May 31 were dropped at the request of U.S. Attorney J. Alan Johnson on Monday when the prosecution rested its case, which was based primarily on the testimony of the players.
Renfroe said he would appeal Strong's conviction and his own contempt citation.
Diamond denied a motion for Strong to remain free on bond pending sentencing, which was scheduled for Oct. 21. "The evidence indicates he was in the business of selling cocaine," Diamond said. "The likelihood is that he will pose a danger to the community."
Diamond scheduled a detention hearing Monday, asking Renfroe to produce at that time "clear and convincing evidence" to prove otherwise.
Strong, who was led out of the courthouse in chains, faces up to 15 years in prison and a $25,000 fine on each count.
After the verdict was read, Diamond turned and told the jurors: "I will not comment on the verdict other than to say it was based well within the evidence introduced in the trial."
Throughout the trial, Renfroe had insisted it was baseball, not his client, who was on trial here. He argued that his client was a scapegoat for the players, whom he called junkies and the real dealers. There was testimony that players sold cocaine to each other, but not for profit, and none of them said they still used the drug.
In his final words before dismissing the jury, Diamond said:
"There are millions of baseball fans out there -- of all ages. Because of the publicity generated, we have now brought the matter of the cocaine problem in this country to the attention of its young people.
"While it may be they have found some of their idols have feet of clay, they also understand the evils and dangers of fooling around with drugs, as no advertising campaign ever could have done. So it serves that purpose."
Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who favors mandatory drug testing, has not commented during these legal proceedings and today his office reiterated that no statement would be immediately forthcoming.
Strong is the fourth of seven Pennsylvania men outside baseball to be convicted after being indicted May 31 on cocaine-trafficking charges. The other three entered plea bargains. The trial of Robert McCue resumes Monday, with Milner scheduled to testify, and Shelby Greer is scheduled to complete a plea bargain Tuesday. Jeff Mosco has pleaded not guilty, and a trial date has not been set.
Johnson, who has been criticized for granting immunity to the players, was asked if he was vindicated.
"The verdict speaks for itself," the prosecutor said. "In addition to the verdict, in connection with the defendant, I hope the media attention has alerted the public and especially the youth of this country to the dangers of cocaine."
Johnson estimated that 22 million Americans have tried cocaine and that 5,000 people a day in the United States try it for the first time.
Following dismissal of the jury on Wednesday after the defense rested, the lawyers and the judge argued in open court over what was proper to use in closing arguments. Diamond specifically told Renfroe he could ask the jury to use the issue of immunity to consider the players' credibility but could not ask them to question the government's decision to grant it.
Diamond, in finding Renfroe in contempt, also cited the lawyer for referring to the time his client might have to spend in jail, because the jury does not consider punishment. Johnson objected frequently during Renfroe's closing argument, and Diamond generally sustained those objections.
Diamond admonished Renfroe frequently both in open court and in side conferences with the lawyers. "The record will indicate at sidebar the court admonished him on . . . innumerable occasions," the judge said.
Diamond read a transcript of a sidebar conference Thursday in which he told Renfroe his conduct was "absolutely reprehensible and it will not go unnoticed by the court. The only reason I won't cite you for contempt now is . . . we might have to declare a mistrial."