By Jonathan Stempel
Sept 13 (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Friday upheld the felony conviction of baseball home run king Barry Bonds for obstruction of justice over his testimony to a grand jury probing the sale of steroids.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the former San Francisco Giants slugger had been “evasive and misleading” when he told grand jurors in 2003 about his childhood in response to a question about whether his former trainer, Greg Anderson, had given him self-injectable substances.
Bonds had been testifying under a grant of immunity, and denied knowingly using steroids or any performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) provided by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, known as BALCO, or by Anderson.
After talking about his friendship with the trainer, Bonds, a son of former baseball star Bobby Bonds, had testified: “I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation.”
While Bonds eventually said he had not received self-injectable substances, Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder wrote for a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel that his response could have influenced the grand jury into minimizing Anderson’s role in the distribution of illegal steroids and PEDs.
Grand jurors had been examining whether proceeds from sales of the drugs were being laundered.
“The statement served to divert the grand jury’s attention away from the relevant inquiry of the investigation, which was Anderson and BALCO’s distribution of steroids and PEDs,” the judge wrote. “The statement was therefore evasive.”
In upholding Bonds’ April 2011 conviction, the 9th Circuit, which heard the case in San Francisco, also rejected his contentions that the statute under which he was convicted did not apply to grand jury testimony and was unconstitutionally vague.
“We are gratified by the court’s decision, and believe justice is served,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in San Francisco.
His sentence of two years of probation and 30 days of home confinement had been put on hold pending the appeal of his conviction. Bonds’ jury had deadlocked on three perjury counts.
In a statement posted on his website late on Friday, Bonds said he had instructed his attorneys to ask the court and probation officials to allow him to begin serving his “full sentence and probation immediately.”
“Meanwhile, I also intend to seek further judicial review of the important legal issues presented by the appeal that was decided today,” he added.
Bonds thanked the judges and his legal team, noting that it “has been a long and difficult chapter in my life and I look forward to moving beyond it once I have fulfilled the penalties ordered by the court.”
Dennis Riordan, who argued Bonds’ appeal, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Paul Haagen, a Duke University law professor and director of its Center for Sports Law and Policy, said the decision to try Bonds reflected “increased impatience” among authorities to rely too heavily on drug testing to uncover and deter PED use.
“Users are becoming more sophisticated in avoiding detection, and one response among sports organizations and governments has been to rely on investigations in addition to drug testing,” he said. “This decision reflects that celebrities and athletes are not going to be given a pass.”
Bonds last played in 2007, and is Major League Baseball’s regular season home run leader with 762. He also holds the single-season record with 73 in 2001, and won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award a record seven times.
But suspicions over drugs tarnished his legacy, and voters in January denied him and former star pitcher Roger Clemens entry to baseball’s Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.
A jury in Washington, D.C., acquitted Clemens in June 2012 of lying to Congress by denying that he used PEDs. Bonds and Clemens are the most prominent players to have been tried in connection with baseball’s so-called Steroid Era.
Bonds had testified that he received flaxseed oil, creams, vitamins and protein shakes from Anderson.
Among the other athletes linked to BALCO was former track star Marion Jones, who gave up her five medals from the 2000 Summer Olympics after admitting in October 2007 that she lied to federal investigators about whether she used PEDs.