WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Roger Clemens’ lawyer on Tuesday told jurors that the former pitching star did not commit perjury when he denied using steroids, saying Clemens is opposed to the performance-enhancing drugs and succeeded through hard work.
“You are sitting in judgment to decide whether it is a crime to deny a crime,” attorney Rusty Hardin told jurors in his opening statement at the trial of Clemens, who is charged with lying to Congress in testimony concerning performance-enhancing drugs.
Use of steroids and human growth hormone “was total anathema, totally against everything he stood for,” Hardin said.
Hardin said Clemens’ former trainer Brian McNamee, who is expected to testify that the baseball star used performance-enhancing drugs, is a liar. He said Clemens became one of the best pitchers of his era by following a rigorous conditioning program - not by taking steroids.
“The only thing he wanted to do was be a baseball player and be the best he could,” Hardin said.
Clemens, 49, who won the Cy Young Award a record seven times as his league’s best pitcher, is being tried for a second time on federal charges of lying to the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in 2008 about whether he used performance-enhancing drugs. The panel was investigating drug use in Major League Baseball.
Clemens first went on trial last July. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton declared a mistrial because prosecutors showed jurors a video clip that included material the judge had banned from the case unless it was raised by Clemens’ defense team.
Hardin’s opening statement was meant to counter charges by prosecutors that Clemens had covered up his steroid use.
In his opening statement on Monday, U.S. Attorney Steven Durham said proof that Clemens took steroids includes needles and bloody swabs that independent tests have shown contain the former elite pitcher’s DNA and performance-enhancing drugs.
Hardin struck back by telling jurors that Clemens has never tested positive for steroids or showed any sign of their use, such as increased bulk. “This case all along has been only about one man’s persistence in trying to clear his name against all odds,” he said.
Clemens faces one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making a false statement and two counts of perjury in a trial that may run as long as six weeks.
If convicted, he faces a maximum prison term of 30 years, although under federal sentencing guidelines he would most likely get 15 to 21 months.
Hardin took aim at McNamee, who had been Clemens’ trainer and is expected to be a key prosecution witness. He likely will testify that he injected Clemens with anabolic steroids in 1998, 2000 and 2001 and with human growth hormone in 2000.
Hardin said federal authorities would be unable to show any corroboration for McNamee’s claims despite an investigation that included 268 interview reports and the use of 103 federal agents and eight assistant U.S. attorneys.
Clemens’ career “never changed” during the years of alleged steroid use, Hardin told the jury.
Clemens played for Boston, Toronto, Houston and the New York Yankees in a career that ran from 1984 to 2007.
The trial’s first witness, Phil Barnett, the House Oversight committee’s chief of staff, told the jury that Clemens had been asked to testify because he was likely the most prominent player named in a report prepared by former Senator George Mitchell and the committee wanted to be sure it was accurate.
The trial will resume on Monday.
Editing by Paul Thomasch and Cynthia Osterman