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Barry Bonds Spared Jail Time for Obstruction in Steroids Probe

Barry Bonds, Major League Baseball’s career home-run record holder, was spared jail time and instead ordered to serve two years of probation for obstructing a U.S. probe of steroid use in professional sports.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco also required the former San Francisco Giants outfielder to spend 30 days in home confinement with a location monitoring device, pay a $4,000 fine and serve 250 hours of community service. She put the sentence on hold after lawyers for Bonds said they will appeal his conviction.

Bonds deserved a lighter sentence than the 15 months to 21 months prison term his conduct could have warranted because other athletes convicted in the steroids probe had received only probation and Bonds’s conduct was out of character, Illston said.

“It is an aberration in his life,” she said at the sentencing hearing yesterday.

Bonds, who hasn’t played Major League Baseball since 2007, declined Illston’s offer to address her before he was sentenced. Outside the courtroom, a smiling Bonds hugged family members and friends. He didn’t appear at a news conference held by his attorneys outside the courthouse.

Prosecutor’s Request

Prosecutors had asked Illston to send Bonds to prison for 15 months. The judge agreed with Bonds’s lawyer and the U.S. Probation Office’s recommendation that the former slugger serve probation and no jail time.

Bonds, 47, was found guilty of obstruction in April for what prosecutors called his evasive response in 2003 before a federal grand jury. Asked if his trainer, Greg Anderson, ever gave him anything that required a syringe for injection, Bonds didn’t immediately say yes or no. In a 146-word response, he spoke about being a “celebrity child” who didn’t “get into other people’s business.” In the end, he answered, “No.”

Bonds’s conduct “strikes at the core of our system where truthfulness and forthrightness matter greatly,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Parrella said at the hearing. He called probation a “slap on the wrist” and the $4,000 fine and home confinement “laughable for a man with a 50,000 square foot home.”

Sentence Recommendation

Parrella challenged the probation office’s determination that the conduct that led to Bonds’s conviction was an aberration, saying he had lied for years about taking steroids and cheated on his wives with two mistresses.

“He wasn’t convicted for that,” Illston responded. Parrella declined to comment after the sentencing hearing.

Allen Ruby, Bonds’s lead trial attorney, wouldn’t directly respond to questions about whether he and his client were pleased with the sentence.

“It depends on your view of whether justice was done,” Ruby said at a news conference outside the courthouse. “You might be able to guess what we think, but we’re not talking.”

No one has ever been convicted for taking 75 seconds to answer a question before a grand jury, said Dennis Riordan, the attorney who will head Bonds’s appeal. That’s how much time elapsed before Bonds directly answered the question he was asked in 2003, said Riordan after the hearing.

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.

Trial Testimony

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.

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 Bonds’s former trainer Anderson to prison after he pleaded guilty to steroids distribution. She also sent Anderson to jail after finding him in contempt of court for refusing to testify about his dealings with Bonds.

Two athletes and one coach were given probation by Illston.

Track Cyclist

In 2008, she 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.

Bonds, who played for the Giants for 15 seasons, broke Henry Aaron’s record of 755 career home runs in August 2007. Three months later, Bonds was indicted.

The case is U.S. v. Bonds, 07-00732, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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