In trial’s start, dueling portrayals of Clemens
WASHINGTON - In opening statements yesterday, prosecution and defense lawyers in the Roger Clemens perjury trial painted contrasting images of the Red Sox icon, making their case to a jury largely unfamiliar with the former pitcher’s on-field accomplishments and alleged off-field crimes.
The government showed photos of Clemens in Yankee pinstripes pumping his fist with biceps bulging and of used syringes and cotton balls saved by the pitcher’s longtime trainer, Brian McNamee.
Assistant US Attorney Steven Durham said the syringes and cotton balls tested positive for Clemens’s DNA and anabolic steroids and were “part of the scientific proof we’ll admit into evidence in this case.’’ Durham added that McNamee saved the syringes and cotton balls from 2001 because “he never completely trusted Clemens.’’
Lead defense attorney Rusty Hardin countered that the evidence was manufactured. Clemens has said McNamee injected him only with the anesthetic lidocaine for his joints and vitamin B-12.
The defense portrayed Clemens as an extremely hard-work ing athlete who, Hardin said, “spent a 24-year career doing things the right way’’ and steroid use would be “incredibly inconsistent with his career and beliefs.’’ Hardin presented a timeline with photos of Clemens as a smiling young boy and wearing a University of Texas uniform.
Both sides showed video clips from the interview Clemens gave to CBS’s “60 Minutes’’ and images of him from the hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in February 2008, where he denied steroid use.
That denial is now at the center of the pending charges against Clemens: that he lied to Congress.
Clemens wore a dark suit and did not show emotion yesterday. Hardin said Clemens, 48, is eager to have his side heard because the pitcher’s “public perception went into a spiral’’ after accusations of steroid use contained in the 2007 Mitchell Report, an investigation led by former US senator George Mitchell into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.
Durham said the government will prove beyond a reasonable doubt “that Clemens used both anabolic steroids and HGH [human growth hormone] and that when he raised his right hand [at the hearing] he was lying’’ and will “prove it with detail - the dates, the times, the places, the locations, the sources.’’ The government plans to call about 45 witnesses, including former players and McNamee.
Hardin spent a significant portion of his opening statement attacking the credibility of McNamee, the key prosecution witness.
“All roads lead to McNamee,’’ said Hardin. “At the end of the day, the evidence is never going to be able to get away from the fact that, to put it delicately, Brian McNamee is a liar. He was a liar before this started. And you’re going to have to decide if he’s still lying. We believe the evidence will show he’s still lying in a lot of ways.
“Roger Clemens’s only crime was having the poor judgment to stay connected to Brian McNamee.’’
Both sides covered considerable territory in their hourlong opening statements, including the government’s brief history of what it calls baseball’s “serious drug problem’’ and of the Mitchell Report that named 89 players as performance-enhancing drug users. The government explained what steroids can do for a player, then addressed a possible motive for why Clemens might use them and later deny it.
“Major league baseball is a competitive sport,’’ said Durham. “People enjoy playing the game. People want to continue playing the game. Why would he be dishonest about it? To admit something like this negative influence . . . You’ll learn about the Hall of Fame and this is something that Mr. Clemens wants.’’
After spending the 2007 season with the Yankees, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner retired at age 45. Durham said Clemens “made a lot of money after 40’’ and the government “would talk about how his body broke down in his mid-30s.’’
Hardin tried to counter the perception that Clemens arrogantly exposed himself to criminal charges by testifying at the February 2008 hearing. Although he was not subpoenaed, Clemens faced pressure to go before Congress under oath, Hardin argued. “You get to decide: Did he do it because of arrogance and wanting to go to the Hall of Fame?’’ said Hardin. “Did he walk into that abyss knowing he may be charged with a crime? Really? To get into the Hall of Fame? Really? Is that what we’ve come to?’’
Hardin questioned the government’s motives for pursuing a criminal perjury case against Clemens and cautioned the jury not to make a felon out of a man “who had the temerity to say, ‘I didn’t do it.’ ’’ Hardin also wondered why the government would “cut a deal with a drug dealer [McNamee] to go after an alleged user [Clemens]’’ when the opposite is usually done.
The defense outlined the resources spent in search of evidence and corroboration of McNamee’s version of events. Referencing a graphic illustration, Hardin showed that the government had used 103 law enforcement officers, five attorneys, 229 investigation reports, and 72 investigation sites across the United States and in Germany and Puerto Rico.
“What’s relevant about this is they still didn’t find anything to connect him to steroids except Brian McNamee,’’ said Hardin.
Durham anticipated the defense attack on McNamee and told the jury to expect many negative things said about the trainer from the defense, from the government, and from McNamee. But Durham promised the government would corroborate McNamee’s testimony with direct and indirect evidence.
The government also expected the defense to argue that Congress overstepped its authority by investigating whether Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs. Durham put the February 2008 hearing in a larger context, characterizing it as action taken to ultimately protect children from drugs.
Yesterday, Hardin kept the focus more on Clemens and McNamee. “What the evidence is going to do is unravel everything,’’ said Hardin. “The evidence will show Roger Clemens has a right to be angry, to be hurt, and be mad because he was totally betrayed by a worker and friend.’’
Shira Springer can be reached at email@example.com.