Roger Clemens lied to Congress about using steroids and human growth hormone to protect his chances of election to the Hall of Fame, a U.S. prosecutor told jurors as the ex-pitcher’s perjury trial began in Washington.
Clemens, who pitched for the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays during a 24-year career, used the drugs to remain competitive as he aged, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Durham said in opening statements today in Washington. Admitting to it would have had a “negative influence” on his reputation, Durham said.
“For a witness to go before Congress, take that oath and to say things they know not to be true, these are very serious federal crimes,” Durham told the jurors. “There are 15 statements we alleged to be false and misleading. We must prove at least one of them. We intend to prove them all,” Durham said.
Clemens, 48, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, is charged with one count of obstructing a congressional investigation, three counts of making false statements and two counts of perjury in connection with a congressional probe of the use of performance-enhancing drugs by ballplayers. He has pleaded not guilty.
Durham said during his hour-long opening that the government plans to call about 45 witnesses, including four who in a 2007 report were named as users of performance-enhancing drugs while playing for Major League Baseball. The evidence will include a needle and cotton ball containing Clemens’s DNA that tested positive for anabolic steroids, he said. They were obtained from Clemens’s former trainer, Brian McNamee, he said.
Defense lawyer Rusty Hardin told the jury there was a “rush to judgment on Roger Clemens that it made impossible for him to be fairly heard until we got here.”
Hardin put up a map of North America that he said displayed the resources expended by the government since Congress recommended his prosecution for perjury to prove Clemens used steroids and human growth hormone. The effort involved 103 law enforcement officers, five attorneys, more than 200 investigation reports and 72 investigative locations, according to Hardin.
In the end, the only evidence connecting Clemens to the drugs is McNamee, he said.
“Roger Clemens’s only crime was having the poor judgment to stay connected to Brian McNamee,” Hardin said. “Evidence that this guy used steroids and HGH is so inconsistent with his career in the league that there is no way he would have done it.”
Asked whether he had any thoughts on today’s openings, Clemens said he couldn’t talk about it.
In August, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton issued a gag order covering Clemens, attorneys for both sides and potential witnesses, warning them not to make prejudicial comments about the case in public.
Clemens has denied drug use since former Senator George Mitchell released a report on steroids in Major League Baseball on Dec. 13, 2007. Mitchell named Clemens in the report as having used drugs on 16 occasions between 1998 and 2001.
The criminal charges stem from statements Clemens made to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in February 2008 in a private interview with committee staff and later in a public hearing. Clemens, under oath, denied ever using anabolic steroids or human growth hormone, according to the indictment.
During the public hearing on Feb. 13, Clemens testified while standing a few feet away from McNamee, who said he injected Clemens with both drugs while Clemens was pitching for the Blue Jays and the Yankees.
McNamee is a chief witness for the government.
Walton stopped Durham during his opening statement as the prosecutor told jurors that former New York Yankees teammates of Clemens -- Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch, and Mike Stanton -- would be called as witnesses to explain how they used human growth hormone, or HGH. Walton ordered jurors to disregard the reference to the other players.
In an earlier hearing, Walton said he may not allow the jury to hear from former teammates about injections they received from McNamee.
Pettitte will testify about his close relationship with Clemens and how Clemens told him in 1999 or 2000 that he had used HGH, Durham said. Clemens told Congress that Pettitte “misremembered” the conversation.
“Mr. Clemens says he doesn’t remember that conversation at all,” Durham said. “Mr. Pettitte does and he’ll tell you about it.”
Durham, who told jurors that this was not a drug trial, said the government will prove that Clemens used both anabolic steroids and HGH, and will provide jurors with the “dates, times, places, locations and sources” for the drugs.
One of those sources was Kirk Radomski, a former clubhouse assistant for the New York Mets, who will testify that he sent HGH to Clemens home in Houston in 2003, Durham said.
The false testimony includes lying about not being present in 2003 when McNamee injected Clemens’s wife, Debbie, with HGH, Durham said.
“Mr. Clemens was there,” Durham said. “Mr. Clemens directed it and Mr. Clemens approved of it.”
Hardin told jurors that Debbie Clemens will testify and “one thing will be certain, either Debbie Clemens is lying or Brian McNamee is lying.” He said there are no plans to attack the credibility of Pettitte.
The Mitchell report’s allegations of drug use by Clemens, Hardin said, was based “solely” on what McNamee said to the commission.
“What’s unique about this case is that the government cut a deal” in which a “dope dealer” was told he could avoid prosecution in exchange for being interviewed by a private group, the Mitchell Commission, Hardin said. “They knew that even if Roger Clemens was never charged with a crime connected to steroids, his reputation would be ruined forever.”
The first witness called by the government was Charles Johnson, the former parliamentarian for the House of Representatives. Johnson said that Congress has the authority to gather information through hearings and depositions on topics that could form the “potential basis for legislative action,” even if no legislation is eventually drafted.
A House staffer, Phil Barnett, also testified today that leaders on the House panel were concerned that “baseball was seriously deficient” with coming up with a policy to address steroid use.
Clemens’s lawyers have argued that Congress was not seeking legislation when it invited Clemens to testify in 2008.
After Clemens walked through security this morning at the entrance of the courthouse, he was approached by two men seeking his autograph, one of them holding a baseball. Clemens said “maybe afterward” and told them he would be in the cafeteria during the lunch break.
The trial, before a jury of 10 women and two men, is likely to last four to six weeks, according to Walton. If convicted on all charges, Clemens faces as long as 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.
Walton said jurors will be allowed to submit questions for witnesses that will be considered by the judge and the lawyers and could then be asked.
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