Barry Bonds, Major League Baseball’s career home-run record holder convicted of obstructing a U.S. probe of steroid use in professional sports, faces sentencing by a judge who chose not to jail two athletes for similar offenses.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco today will weigh the government’s request for a 15-month prison sentence against a U.S. Probation Office recommendation that the former slugger serve probation and no jail time. Bonds’s attorneys are also asking for probation.
Bonds, 47, the former San Francisco Giants left fielder who avoided conviction on whether he lied about taking performance- enhancing drugs, is unlikely to get prison because Illston hasn’t sent any athletes convicted in the eight-year long steroids probe to jail, said Marcellus McRae, a criminal-defense attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in Los Angeles.
“She is not constrained because of the sentences she gave in other cases but you do look at the judge’s prior sentences,” said McRae, a former federal prosecutor. “He shouldn’t be made a scapegoat, as if the only way we can justify all the expense and time spent on the steroids investigation is to sentence him to jail.”
In 2008, Illston sentenced Tammy Thomas, a world-class track cyclist banned from the sport for using performance- enhancing drugs, to six months’ home confinement and five years’ probation for obstructing justice and lying about taking steroids.
Dana Stubblefield, the first National Football League player charged in the steroids probe, was sentenced by Illston to two years’ probation in 2009 for lying about taking the muscle-building substances.
Trevor Graham, who coached sprinter Marion Jones, was given a year of home confinement by the judge for lying to federal agents about his contacts with a steroids supplier.
Jones, the record-breaking sprinter and 2000 Olympics medal-winner who confessed she used steroids after years of public denial, was sentenced by a federal judge in New York to six months in prison for lying in two federal grand jury investigations.
Illston has presided over most of the criminal cases in federal court in San Francisco related to Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative, or Balco, the California lab at the center of a federal probe into the use performance-enhancing drugs among athletes. She sentenced Victor Conte, Balco’s founder, to four months in prison after he pleaded guilty to distributing anabolic steroids to athletes.
Patrick Arnold, an Illinois chemist who created the undetectable steroid known as “The Clear,” was given three months in prison by Illston. She sentenced Greg Anderson, Bonds’s former trainer, to prison after he pleaded guilty to steroid distribution. She also sent Anderson to jail after finding him in contempt of court for refusing to testify about his dealings with Bonds.
Bonds was found guilty of obstruction in April for what prosecutors called his evasive response in 2003 before a federal grand jury. Asked if Anderson ever gave him anything that required a syringe for injection, Bonds didn’t immediately say yes or no and in a 146-word response spoke about being a “celebrity child” who didn’t “get into other people’s business.”
Trial jurors couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on whether Bonds lied when he told the grand jury he didn’t knowingly take steroids or take human growth hormone. Illston declared a mistrial on those charges.
Bonds’s attorneys said at trial that he truthfully testified that he received performance-enhancing substances from Anderson without knowing what they were because the drugs were new at the time and Anderson told him one was flaxseed oil.
Prosecutors, in a Dec. 8 filing in federal court in San Francisco, said they disagreed with a pre-sentencing report that recommended Bonds serve two years’ probation, pay a $4,000 fine and perform 250 hours of community service. Non-binding federal sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of 15 to 21 months, prosecutors said. Bonds also hasn’t taken responsibility for his crime, they said.
“Bonds’s pervasive efforts to testify falsely, to mislead the grand jury, to dodge questions, and to simply refuse to answer questions in the grand jury makes his conduct worthy of a significant jail sentence,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Parrella said in the court filing.
Illston could break her no-jail streak if she decides that aggravating circumstances, such as Bonds’s level of sophistication or the nature of his conduct, justify a tougher sentence, McRae said.
“There’s also something called equality before the law, which means he shouldn’t be treated differently because he’s rich and famous,” McRae said yesterday in a phone interview. “The potential impact on his Hall of Fame prospects and the amount of time he’s been out of baseball shows there has already been significant collateral damage to him.”
Lawyers for Bonds argued in a Dec. 6 court filing that his “history of good works,” including charitable and civic contributions, and other factors justify a sentence of probation.
Bonds hasn’t played Major League Baseball since 2007, the last of his 15 seasons with the Giants. He broke Henry Aaron’s record of 755 career home runs that August. Three months later, Bonds was indicted.
He has 10 days after his sentencing to notify a federal appeals court in San Francisco if he intends to challenge his conviction. Illston may decide today when Bonds should begin serving his sentence.
The case is U.S. v. Bonds, 07-00732, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
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