WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors promised on Wednesday to link Major League Baseball pitching great Roger Clemens to steroid use with needles and bloodied cotton balls in their bid to prove he lied to Congress about it.
Prosecutors gave their opening statement in U.S. District court against Clemens as they seek to prove he lied to the U.S. Congress in 2008 when he told lawmakers he never took anabolic steroids or human growth hormone from 1998 to 2001.
Clemens has repeatedly denied taking the performance enhancing drugs or lying to lawmakers, telling them that his personal trainer and onetime friend, Brian McNamee, had injected him with shots of vitamin B12 and the anesthetic lidocaine instead.
“We will prove that Mr. Clemens ... used both anabolic steroids and human growth hormones,” U.S. prosecutor Steven Durham told the jury, just blocks from the U.S. Congress where the pitching legend gave his disputed testimony.
“Mr. McNamee saved needles and cotton balls that he used to inject Mr. Clemens -- he never completely trusted this man.”
The evidence McNamee saved was sent by prosecutors to private laboratories which tested them and found evidence consistent with Clemens’ DNA on the needles and his actual DNA on the bloodied cotton balls, Durham said.
“They found absolutely no B12 and they found absolutely no lidocaine,” Durham said.
Clemens’ lead defense lawyer Rusty Hardin tried to paint a much different picture, arguing that the pitching star’s former trainer made everything up about the steroids use by Clemens and had manufactured the evidence the prosecution was seizing on as proof Clemens took the performance-enhancing drugs.
“They have no corroborating evidence of McNamee,” Hardin said, adding that despite more than 100 investigators criss-crossing the country, “they still didn’t have anything to connect him to steroids except Brian McNamee.”
Clemens, 48, pitched for four teams during his 24-year career in baseball, including the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros. He was one of only four pitchers to strike out more than 4,000 batters.
He was a seven-time winner of the Cy Young Award annually honoring the best pitcher in each league.
Hardin argued that Clemens won the Cy Young Award both before the period he was accused of taking the drugs, and more importantly in the years afterward.
“Roger Clemens’ only crime was having the poor judgment to stay connected with Brian McNamee,” said Hardin.
Clemens sat in a charcoal colored suit quietly taking in the proceedings in the windowless courtroom. After an initial crush in the courtroom, the room was half full as witnesses were called.
‘CHASING A FLEA ON AN ELEPHANT’
Hardin told the 12-member jury that his client was forced to testify to Congress even though they knew his answers and questioned whether Congress had the authority to pursue the hearing since no legislation was at hand.
“Congress called him and basically ... dared him to say under oath what he repeatedly said publicly,” said defense attorney Hardin. “I suggest to you that this is the classic example of chasing a flea on an elephant.”
As prosecutors introduced Clemens to the jury, they showed a photograph of him in a Yankees uniform roaring in triumph with one arm raised, fist clenched, with a vein popping out.
They also had an FBI agent read to the jury lengthy testimony Clemens gave under oath in 2008 to congressional investigators in which he said he was given shots of B12 and lidocaine rather than steroids or human growth hormones.
Prosecutors used their first witnesses to try to bolster the argument that the House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Government Reform had the authority to hold hearings on steroids and call Clemens to testify since he was named as a user in a report by former Senator George Mitchell.
“The public denials put into issue the accuracy of Senator Mitchell’s report,” said Phil Barnett, who interviewed Clemens in 2008 for the committee. He said the testimony of the pitcher was sought because “we wanted to understand from him what his account of the incidents” were.
Barnett said in response to Durham that Congress wanted testimony about steroids use in baseball because it affected U.S. drug policy as well as public health, particularly because players like Clemens served as “role models for youth.”
The trial is expected to last a month or more, with both sides promising a parade of former players who had taken steroids, as well as Clemens’ wife who took human growth hormones once.
Additional reporting by Keith Harriston in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman