WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jurors began deliberations on Tuesday in the perjury trial of former Major League Baseball pitching great Roger Clemens after his lawyers in closing arguments called the main prosecution witness a liar and prosecutors said it was Clemens who was not truthful.
“What is this case about?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gilberto Guerrero asked the jury during the prosecution’s closing arguments. “This case is not about Roger Clemens’ greatness. It is about (him) lying ... to protect his legacy.”
Clemens - one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history - is on trial for the second time on federal charges of lying in 2008 to a congressional committee that was investigating drug use in baseball when he said he did not use performance-enhancing drugs. His first trial ended in a mistrial.
After hearing closing arguments from both sides, the eight women and four men of the jury deliberated briefly, then broke off for the day and planned to resume their work on Wednesday.
Clemens, 49, faces one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making a false statement and two counts of perjury. If convicted, he faces a maximum prison term of 30 years, though under federal sentencing guidelines he most likely would get 15 to 21 months.
The defense launched a final assault on the credibility of Brian McNamee, Clemens’ former trainer and the most important prosecution witness who has testified he injected Clemens with anabolic steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) between 1998 and 2001.
“Saying Brian McNamee lies zero times is sort of like calling the Grand Canyon a ditch,” Clemens’ lawyer Rusty Hardin told the jurors.
Clemens’ wife and four sons sat behind him in the courtroom during the closing arguments. Clemens did not testify in the trial. He is among the biggest baseball stars accused of using performance-enhancing drugs.
The trial lasted more than two months and featured 46 witnesses over 26 days of testimony. The proceedings were so labored at some stages that two jurors were dismissed for falling asleep, and U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton warned lawyers on both sides about the slow pace.
Prosecutors, who finished closing arguments late in the afternoon, said Clemens had weaved an “entangled web of lies” to protect his reputation.
‘TALE OF TWO MEN’
Clemens’ lawyers continued their strategy of portraying McNamee as unreliable and a liar. In remarks that veered from impassioned appeal to attempts at comic relief, Hardin described the trial as a “tale of two men.” He showed jurors a pair of photos, one of Clemens smiling in a baseball cap and another of a pallid and squinting McNamee.
With a chart of statements by McNamee organized into categories for mistakes, admitted lies, and proven lies, defense lawyers offered reasons why McNamee’s testimony could not be believed “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard jurors must apply when judging whether or not Clemens is guilty.
Clemens’ lawyers said McNamee contradicted himself throughout the investigation and trial and had not just lied about his motives for keeping medical waste he later gave to authorities, but “made up this story” about doing so to keep his wife off his back.
Prosecutors argued that McNamee, who worked with Clemens when the pitcher played for the Toronto Blue Jays and later the New York Yankees, had no reason to lie about Clemens.
“This was the man who worshipped and idolized Roger Clemens ... If he was framing (Clemens), he would have done a better job wouldn’t he?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Courtney Saleski told the jurors.
McNamee had testified that he kept needles, cotton balls, a broken steroid ampoule and other medical waste from injections for Clemens to comfort his now estranged wife who said he would “go down” for his involvement in drug usage in baseball. Prosecutors have said some of the items contained Clemens’ DNA and traces of steroids.
McNamee’s wife, Eileen, later testified that she had never made such a warning to McNamee.
“We’re not asking you to like Brian McNamee. ... Brian McNamee did a lot of things that weren’t nice ... but Roger Clemens is the one who chose Brian McNamee to inject him with steroids and HGH,” Guerrero told the jury.
Prosecutors have worked to portray Clemens as an ambitious player who used McNamee for steroids and human growth hormone to give him an edge in the game. Defense aimed to paint Clemens as a hard worker whose late-career success was the product of dedication and smart pitching, not performance-enhancing drugs.
Editing by Will Dunham