Baseball star Barry Bonds may have given “rambling and irrelevant” testimony when asked by a grand jury if he knew about illegal steroids dealing by his trainer, but that doesn’t constitute obstruction of justice. So began the defense argument Wednesday before a skeptical 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel.
The ornate courtroom was packed with reporters, lawyers, including U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, and followers of the nine-year-long saga. The three judges peppered both sides with questions during the 40-minute hearing.
Based on the questioning alone, odds appear that it may be Judge Michael Daly Hawkins who ends up writing the decision.
“At trial this case was about whether Barry Bonds lied on December 4, 2003 to the grand jury about Greg Anderson’s trafficking in performance enhancing drugs,” Dennis Riordan, Bonds’ lawyer told the court. “But the appeal is about something different. Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice, a single statement, of just 52 words, that was primarily about his relationship with his father Bobby Bonds.”
Judge Michael Daly Hawkins quickly jumped in, “Weren’t his answers evasive?”
“Absolutely not,” Riordan responded.
In 2011, a federal jury convicted Bonds of a single count of obstruction of justice for falsely denying he knew anything about his trainer Greg Anderson’s distribution of performance-enhancing drugs, according to federal prosecutors.
It has been nine years since Bonds gave that testimony under a grant of immunity. The case has dragged on because immunity does not protect witnesses if they lie under oath.
A federal grand jury indicted Bonds for allegedly lying to investigators and a single count of obstruction of justice.
His March 2011 trial concluded with a single guilty count of obstruction but the jury deadlocked on false statement charges. Those charges were later dismissed.
The grand jury had called Bonds to testify about his knowledge of illegal distribution of performance-enhancing drugs by the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative, BALCO, its president Victor Conte and Bonds’s trainer, Anderson.
Bonds was never a target of the investigation and was given immunity, but the government said he lied about key questions in the case.
“Bonds told the grand jury that he did not believe that Anderson and BALCO had ever provided him with any illegal substances or services,” Merry Jean Chan assistant U.S. attorney.
Hawkins grilled Chan about Riordan’s argument that the government failed to put Bonds on notice that he was charged with obstruction because of allegedly evasive answers.
“He is wrong,” Chan responded. “The indictment very clearly charges the defendant with giving false and misleading testimony.”
Judge Mary Murguia said, “it does appear the government changed its position from the beginning to after the trial.”
“I disagree. He (Bonds) engaged in a single course of conduct that was littered with misstatements.”
Hawkins continued to stress as “an important point” that Bonds may have been evasive but when he got to the end his answer to a question of whether he was given drugs by Anderson to self-inject he said no.
If that is false, but he still gives an answer, does that make it obstruction, Hawkins asked.
“Well, yes, if it was evasive,” Chan said.
“The whole idea [of obstruction] is delaying the process of getting to the truth,” she said.
The government contends in papers filed in the appeal that, “Bonds also told the grand jury that he had no knowledge of Anderson and BALCO’s involvement with PEDs because he made it a practice to stay out of his friends’ business.” But Chan argued Bonds’ testimony was “false, misleading and evasive,” and that Bonds was Anderson’s client from 1998 to 2003.
There is no deadline for the court to issue its written decision.
Bonds did not attend the court session.
Case: U.S. v. Bonds, No. 11-10669