WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, Roger Clemens had expected to be on the verge of induction into the Hall of Fame now but instead he is focused on staying out of prison, accused of lying about using performance-enhancing drugs.
Clemens, who won the Cy Young Award seven times as the best pitcher in his league, will go on trial next week in Washington after vehemently denying that he ever took human growth hormones and steroids, let alone lied to Congress about it as lawmakers investigated drug use in sports.
The trial presents numerous risks for both Clemens and prosecutors and will pit the word of a baseball legend against those of fellow players and Clemens’s trainer, leaving it to a jury to try to sort out who is telling the truth. Jury selection is due to start Wednesday.
“You’ve got this extraordinarily high-profile athlete who, in the prosecutors’ opinion, just boldly lied to Congress on TV,” said David Rossman, director of Boston University’s School of Law’s Criminal Law Clinical Program.
“It’s such a high-profile person and it was such a widely publicized event, that it makes the system look bad if it doesn’t step up and try and hold someone to account.”
Steroid use has tarnished baseball’s reputation -- as well as other sports such as cycling, where Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has come under scrutiny. Prosecutors have had mixed success pursuing charges against athletes over lying about steroids.
Earlier this year a jury convicted retired San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds on only one obstruction charge and was unable to decide whether he lied about steroid use. But in 2009 infielder Miguel Tejada pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about doping in baseball.
“I do think the prosecutors have, as they had in the Bonds case, a difficult challenge in convincing the jury that this trial is an appropriate use of substantial government resources,” said John Kocoras, a former federal prosecutor and now a partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP.
Clemens began his career in 1984 and pitched until he was 45, playing for two of baseball’s most storied teams, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, as well as the Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros. He amassed impressive statistics that would have guaranteed entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame before the steroids scandal. He had a 354-184 career won-loss record and is one of four pitchers to strike out more than 4,000 batters.
The accusations against Clemens came from a 2006 report commissioned by Major League Baseball that named Clemens as a repeat user, based on testimony by his trainer Brian McNamee.
In a subsequent investigation by Congress, Clemens denied under oath during a 2008 interview with congressional staff that he had used steroids and human growth hormones. He again denied it during public hearings, contradicting McNamee.
As a result, a grand jury charged him with three counts of making false statements, two counts of perjury and one count of obstructing Congress. If convicted, federal guidelines call for a prison sentence of 15 months to 21 months.
Clemens’s high-profile defense team has made it clear that they plan to attack prosecutors’ star witness, McNamee, and try to brand him as a serial liar to investigators about providing steroids to baseball players.
“A lot is going to rest on that one person’s credibility. If the jury isn’t sold on that person’s credibility, they greet the rest of the evidence with skepticism,” Kocoras said.
In fact, prosecutors have said they are likely to call 44 other witnesses, including former teammates such as Andy Pettitte, who told congressional investigators that Clemens had told him that he had used human growth hormones.
Clemens has said his teammate “misremembers” and his lawyers could try to undermine McNamee’s testimony by bringing up a 2001 incident in which he lied to Florida investigators in a sexual assault case. No charges were brought in that case.
The pitcher’s defense team is led by Rusty Hardin, who represented accounting firm Arthur Andersen during the Enron scandal -- the Supreme Court ultimately reversed the conviction against it -- and other baseball players like Wade Boggs.
The trial, which is expected to last more than a month, is one of the biggest in Washington in years, leading Judge Reggie Walton to issue a gag order on talking to the media in a bid to prevent either side from influencing potential jurors.
Editing by Bill Trott