Week One in the case against baseball great Barry U.S. Bonds has come and gone and, as with all high profile cases in America, the handicapping has begun, as we head into the second week of his federal perjury trial.
Most trial watchers out here think prosecutors are trying to make a political point - that U.S. citizens cannot lie when they testify before a grand jury. But the ultimate question for jurors will be whether Bonds lied when he testified that he never knowingly took illegal performance enhancing drugs. The Feds started their case last week with three strikes against them (sorry, couldn't help it).
First, the feds were forced to drop six charges from their indictment, leaving them to proceed with only five. Some analysts suggested prosecutors were, therefore, proceeding on a weaker case than on originally charged.
No necessarily so, however. Fewer charges may be a blessing in disguise. The streamlined case forced prosecutors this week to focus on the core of their case – those specific instances in which they allege Bonds lied. The current charges (four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice) will also be simpler for a jury to digest understand and decide.
In the end, the judge will instruct the jury to decide: Was Barry Bonds ever knowingly injected with steroids? Did Barry Bonds knowingly lie about that under oath? Did Barry Bonds ever knowingly use human growth hormone? Did he ever knowingly lie about that under oath?
There is a second hurdle for prosecutors, however: Key witness, Greg Anderson, is refusing to testify against Bonds.
Anderson is Bond's former trainer, the man who allegedly injected Bonds with illegal performance enhancing drugs. As of this writing, Anderson is expected to spend the duration of the trial behind bars for his refusal to take the stand. Many analysts here suggest the prosecution cannot win without Anderson’s testimony.
Again, I disagree; because prosecutors have something even better than Anderson himself - Anderson’s voice on a secret audio recording in which he allegedly talks about Bonds using drugs.
ESPN got a copy of the tape. And now the lawyers have it too.
Bonds' lawyers are expected to argue that the tape can't be authenticated and that it's being taken out of context. But if prosecutors can get it in, this tape is better than the real Anderson. He can’t be cross-examined; he can’t squirm and worm around on the witness stand; and he can’t change his story.
For its part, the defense team argued that all the government witnesses — including Barry Bonds' former business partner (the prosecution’s first witness), former girlfriend (who testified Monday), and fellow ballplayers — all have an interest in saying Bonds used steroids.
Which gets to the third and biggest problem in the prosecutions case – the political one. Or what I call, The “So What?” Factor. Because, beyond the legal tactics, there is are big non-legal questions hanging over that California courthouse: What impact will the slugger’s legacy have on the outcome of the case? And what impact will the case’s outcome have on the legacy of player who holds two of baseball's greatest records - most single season and most career home runs?
Will the eight women and four men on the jury care about this case any more than taxpayers who have wearied of it after eight years of build-up and millions of dollars spent? It would be one thing if Barry Bonds were a big time Mafia Don. But he’s not. He’s a baseball player.
During opening arguments last week, Bonds' attorney even admitted to the jury that Bonds had in fact used steroids, but that he was misled by trainer Greg Anderson and didn't know they were steroids. Notebooks in hand, they scribbled words like "testicular atrophy,” heard about female fertility drugs, and were told a bitter ex-mistress and equally bitter former childhood friend of Bonds would soon be taking the stand to help explain it all.
The trial is expected to last another four to six weeks but what, if anything, will it resolve? In the end, the feds have the most to lose. A reporter at the Boston Globe asked snarkily, this week, whether Bonds will be convicted - or just embarrassed. If there is no conviction, folks will ridicule the government for wasting taxpayers' money, in a state that has a $26.6 billion budget deficit.