Opening arguments have begun in the Barry Bonds perjury trial. But since it has been nearly four years since he was indicted and more than seven since the testimony that got him in trouble in the first place, you’d be forgiven for not knowing exactly what it’s all about.Here’s a quick primer to catch you up.
The story begins with a federal investigation of BALCO, the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative. Originally founded in the 1980s by Victor Conte to provide private blood and urine testing for Olympic athletes, it expanded its portfolio to include training, nutrition, and food supplements for athletes.
In September 2003, BALCO was raided by federal agents under suspicion that it was providing illegal steroids and human growth hormone to athletes. Records at the facility showed that Bonds was among their clients.
THE CASE IS MADE
A grand jury proceeding led by FDA special agent Jeff Novitzky resulted in drug and money laundering charges against Conte and BALCO. Many pro athletes were called to testify including Bonds, sprinter Marion Jones, cyclist Tammy Thomas, and numerous MLB baseball players including Garry Sheffield and Jason Giambi.
Giambi, then a New York Yankee, testified that he received steroids from Greg Anderson, an employee of BALCO and Bonds’ personal strength trainer. Giambi and other major leaguers said they had met Anderson through Bonds. Among the substances involved were two custom “undetectable” salves designed by BALCO and known as “the clear” and “the cream.”
On December 4, 2003, Bonds testified in front of the grand jury that he never knowingly used any illegal steroid. He claimed that Anderson gave him flaxseed oil and arthritis balm and not “the clear” or “the cream.” That testimony is basis for the current perjury claim.
THE BALCO CASE ENDS
In 2005, Anderson and Conte and three other men pleaded guilty to illegal steroid distribution and money laundering. Conte spent four months in jail and Anderson was sentenced to 13 months. The plea arrangements meant there would be no trial and neither man was compelled to give the names of athletes they had supplied with steroids.
GAME OF SHADOWS
In 2006, the former US Senator George Mitchell was appointed by Major League Baseball to investigate the use of the steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in the sports. That same month, San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada released the book Game of Shadows, which was the result of their own investigation into BALCO and Bonds.
Much of the information in both the book and the resulting Mitchell Report was obtained via leaks from the original grand jury. In September 2006, Williams and Fainaru-Wada were sentenced to prison for refusing to reveal the source of leaked grand jury testimony, but the charges were later dropped after one Conte’s lawyers admitted to the leaking the testimony.
The Mitchell Report named 89 MLB players were accused of being involved in various PED scandals and investigations.
ANOTHER GRAND JURY
In April 2006, the US Attorney in San Francisco formed another grand jury to present evidence that Bonds perjured himself in his 2003 testimony. Due to various legal issues related to Greg Anderson’s refusal to testify, the grand jury lasted for more than 20 months, until November 2007, when Bonds was indicted on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice. He pleaded not guilty.
The reason it has taken nearly five years from the opening of the grand jury to today is because of various motion, petitions, and appeals about the evidence that can be presented at the trial.
Much of the perjury evidence hinges on the actions of Anderson, who has refused to cooperate with the grand jury and has spent more than a year in jail on contempt of court charges.
Prosecutors discovered doping calenders (maintained by Anderson) and private drug test results (that Bonds allegedly failed) and also have an illegal audio recording of Anderson talking about Bonds’ drug use. (The tape was made by the player’s former manager, who turned it over to prosecutors.)
However, because Anderson has refused to testify about the evidence, much of it has been ruled inadmissible at the trial. Anderson still refuses to testify and is expected to remain in jail through the duration of the trial.
The prosecution still believes they have a case, even without Anderson. They plan to call former Bonds teammates who say Bonds admitted to using steroids. They plan to call a former employee who says they saw Anderson inject him. Doctors who will discuss Bonds’ hat size and unusual muscle growth. A former girlfriend who will discuss his shrunken testicles, a common side effect of steroid use. (Seriously.)
The also have a drug test taken from MLB’s own testing program in 2003, that was seized by the government, re-tested, and found to contain THG. (The drug found in “the clear.”)
However, proving that Bonds did use illegal drugs doesn’t prove perjury. The trick for prosecutors is to parse Bonds’ words and prove that he knew he was taking illegal steroids when he took them and when he testified about it. Bonds is not expected to testify in this trial.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
If Bonds is found not guilty, the government will lose the biggest fish in the entire BALCO saga. If Bonds loses, he will likely be sentenced to probation (the same punishment given to other convicted of perjury in this case), but will forever be tainted with the label of “steroid user” and will likely never get into the Hall of Fame. If could also effect the upcoming trial of Roger Clemens on charges of lying to Congress.
HOW TO FOLLOW ALONG
We’ll be providing updates throughout the trial, of course, but Sports Illustrated‘s George Dohrmann, SB Nation Bay Area, and Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Willams themselves are tweeting from inside the courtroom all day.