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Clemens pleads not guilty to perjury charges

Prosecutors allege ‘voluminous’ case

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By Bob Hohler
Globe Staff / August 31, 2010

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WASHINGTON — In a city where the mighty rise and fall with hurricane force, Red Sox legend Roger Clemens yesterday officially launched a precarious legal struggle against charges he lied to Congress to cover up his years of cheating as one of baseball’s greatest pitchers.

“Not guilty, your honor,’’ Clemens pleaded loudly in a federal courthouse where some of the most memorable figures in modern American history have defended their honor, for better or worse.

Baseball’s only seven-time Cy Young Award winner said nothing else during his 15-minute arraignment on three counts of making false statements, two counts of perjury, and one count of obstruction of Congress. He faces 15 to 21 months in prison if convicted.

Fresh from the booking process, which typically involves submitting fingerprints and posing for a mug shot, Clemens sat stoically as prosecutors alleged they have built a “voluminous’’ case against him, including “extensive scientific evidence.’’ Steven Durham, chief of the fraud and public corruption unit of the US attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, said the evidence is outlined in a 34-page master index and detailed on 12 computer disks, which the government presented to Clemens’s legal team.

US District Judge Reggie B. Walton scheduled the pitcher’s trial for April 5, two weeks after baseball’s home run king, Barry Bonds, is scheduled to go to trial in San Francisco on federal perjury charges. Both cases sprang from the game’s steroids epidemic, and if either Clemens or Bonds is convicted, he could be the first major leaguer jailed in the scandal.

Clemens, 48, spared himself some indignity by waiving his right to have the charges against him read aloud. Instead, he seized his first opportunity to declare his innocence as he stood before Walton and the statues of four of history’s greatest law bearers (Hammurabi, Moses, Solon, and Justinian), none of whom was big on lying.

The arraignment took place before dozens of reporters and a smattering of spectators in the largest courtroom of the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, at the foot of Capitol Hill. The court is a short walk from the Rayburn House Office Building, where Clemens committed the alleged crimes during a testy congressional hearing in 2008 and in preceding interviews with House investigators.

Prosecutors allege Clemens lied repeatedly, particularly when he stated under oath, “Let me be clear, I have never taken steroids or HGH [human growth hormone].’’

Clemens plans to contend he is being framed by his chief accuser and former trainer, Brian McNamee. Before he was indicted 12 days ago, Clemens rejected a plea deal and vowed to vindicate himself in court.

Durham said the government will provide Clemens transcripts of a two-year grand jury investigation stemming from his congressional testimony and copies of FBI interviews of numerous witnesses. The witnesses include McNamee, who testified he repeatedly injected Clemens with steroids and HGH from 1998 to 2001; Kirk Radomski, who acknowledged distributing illegal performance enhancers to McNamee; and Andy Pettitte, who testified that Clemens, his former best friend, confided using HGH. (Clemens said Pettitte “misremembers.’’)

Others who may be called as witnesses include Clemens’s wife, Debbie, who McNamee claimed he also injected with HGH, and former major leaguers — Jose Canseco and Jason Grimsley among them — whose names appeared in George Mitchell’s 2007 report on steroids in baseball.

Walton has issued an order forbidding anyone involved in the Clemens case from commenting publicly.

Clemens is the latest in a long list of high-profile figures who have found themselves in the Prettyman courthouse on Constitution Avenue. The others include Watergate felons, would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley, former Washington mayor Marion Barry (jailed for cocaine possession), and a parade of witnesses, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, in President Clinton’s impeachment case.

Should a jury convict Clemens, he can expect little mercy from Walton, according to legal analysts. After presiding over the 2007 perjury conviction of I. Lewis “Scooter’’ Libby, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Walton sentenced Libby to 30 months in prison, only for President George W. Bush to commute the sentence, calling it “excessive.’’

“He has been known to hit the long ball,’’ Washington attorney Michael N. Levy said of Walton’s sentencing tendencies.

Levy, a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at Bingham McCutchen, appeared before Walton in the 1990s as a federal prosecutor. He predicted the government will be hard-pressed to convict Clemens, despite its mass of evidence.

“As a general proposition, it’s very difficult to successfully prosecute criminal cases of lying to Congress,’’ Levy said.

Clemens’s legal team is expected to challenge the indictments on multiple levels, including arguing that the case should be dismissed because courts have thrown out perjury charges involving Congress if the defendant appeared before a congressional hearing that had no legitimate legislative purpose. Leaders of the 2008 hearing said it was called to examine the Mitchell report and permit Clemens to respond to it.

“The reality was, they were show hearings, political theater,’’ Levy said. “One has to wonder what the legitimate legislative purpose was.’’

Clemens’s lead attorney, Rusty Hardin, also made clear he will challenge the scientific evidence, including syringes and gauze pads McNamee allegedly used to inject Clemens with illegal performance enhancers. Clemens can argue not only that the evidence was contaminated over time, Levy said, but assert that McNamee could have doctored the syringes with Clemens’s blood and steroids.

Clemens, dressed in a black sport jacket, unusually colorful print tie, and tan slacks, arrived four hours early to the courthouse. In addition to submitting privately to the booking process, he visited the courthouse cafeteria with his three-member legal team for a lunch of salad and bottled water.

He departed immediately after his arraignment, declining comment as he climbed into a shiny black Escalade and headed toward the airport. He flew to South Carolina to join his wife and participate in the Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship.

Clemens is next due in court Dec. 8 for a status hearing. Walton scheduled March 28 to hear pretrial motions.

Prosecutors asked Walton to order Clemens to surrender his passport, but the judge refused. Instead, he released Clemens on the condition that he check in with court officers every other Monday.

“I think he’s well known enough that if somebody wants him, we would know where he is,’’ Walton said.

Bob Hohler can be reached at hohler@globe.com.

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