Barry Bonds, who holds Major League Baseball’s career and single-season home-run records, was properly convicted in 2011 for obstructing a U.S. probe of steroids in professional sports, a federal appeals court said.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco today concluded that a statement Bonds made to a grand jury was evasive and misleading. Bonds, when asked whether his trainer, Greg Anderson, gave him self-injectable substances, replied by referring to his childhood as the son of a well-known professional baseball player.
“The problem is that while Bonds was a celebrity child, that fact was unrelated to the question,” U.S. Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder wrote in her opinion for the court.
Bonds, 49, was the first Major League Baseball player to be charged in a years-long federal probe of steroid use in sports. He was found guilty in federal court in San Francisco of making evasive statements to the grand jury reviewing evidence of athletes’ drug use and Anderson’s role in distributing steroids.
Lawyers for Bonds, a former outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, argued that although he may have used many words responding to a query about whether Anderson ever gave him anything that needed to be injected with a syringe, he eventually answered the question.
Bonds, who was sentenced to two years’ probation, 30 days of house arrest and 250 hours of community service, and fined $4,000, appealed his conviction and sentence in December 2011.
“We are gratified by the court’s decision and believe justice is served,” San Francisco U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said in an e-mailed statement.
Defense attorney Allen Ruby of the Palo Alto, California, office of New York-based Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment on the ruling. Dennis Riordan of Riordan & Horgan, who argued for the defense before the appeals court, also didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
Bonds’s lawyers said his answer wasn’t the basis for any of the counts in an indictment that also charged him with perjury for allegedly making false statements about steroids. A mistrial was declared on those counts after the jury couldn’t agree on whether Bonds was lying when he denied knowingly doping.
In his answer before the grand jury, Bonds spoke about his childhood as the son of Bobby Bonds, a three-time All-Star who played for the Giants and the New York Yankees, and of preserving his friendship with Anderson. He later answered no to the question.
“The statement served to divert the grand jury’s attention away from the relevant inquiry of the investigation,” Schroeder wrote in her opinion. “The statement was also, at the very least, misleading because it implied that Bonds did not know whether Anderson distributed steroids and PEDs.”
Prosecutors told the appeals court in February that the obstruction charge applied to any false statement Bonds made to the grand jury and that his response to the syringe question was a delay tactic and deceptive.
Former Yankee Jason Giambi and other athletes testified at Bonds’s trial that the slugger’s trainer provided them with injectable testosterone and syringes.
In his grand jury testimony, Bonds said that only his personal physician touched him and he didn’t talk baseball with Anderson because of his own history.
“That’s what keeps our friendship,” he testified, according to the appeals court ruling. “I am sorry, but that -- you know, that -- 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, you see.”
Bonds and pitcher Roger Clemens, two of the sport’s most decorated players, were snubbed in voting for baseball’s Hall of Fame in January. Each got about half of the percentage of votes needed for induction. Clemens was acquitted in June 2012 of charges that he lied to Congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Bonds, who was named MVP a record seven times, broke Hank Aaron’s record of 755 career home runs in August 2007. He was indicted in November of that year.
The case is U.S. v Bonds, 11-10669, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).