Barry Bonds' former mistress testified Monday that he blamed a 1999 elbow injury on steroid use, and that the body and behaviour of baseball's home run king changed during their nine-year relationship.
Called by prosecutors to the witness stand, Kimberly Bell choked up as she recalled Bonds once threatening "to cut my head off and leave me in a ditch," an outburst prosecutors attribute to steroid use. The defence portrayed Bell as an unreliable witness, hungry to capitalize on her affair with Bonds, and Bell acknowledged that the relationship benefited her financially.
Bonds, who holds the major league record for home runs in a career, is accused of four counts of making false statements and one of obstruction for telling a federal grand jury in 2003 — months after his relationship with Bell ended — that he never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs.
Bell took the stand Monday morning after San Francisco Giants clubhouse manager Mike Murphy nervously testified that Bonds needed a bigger hat for the 2002 season. Prosecutors say that testimony is important because an enlarged head is a side effect of human growth hormone use.
Under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Nedrow, Bell said she asked Bonds about the problem with his left elbow, which she described as "a big lump ... it looked awful." She testified that Bonds responded by saying his steroid use caused the injury, because the muscle and tendons grew too fast for the joint to handle.
"It blew out," she said.
Bell also said that Bonds talked about the widespread use of steroids among baseball players, including his suspicion that Mark McGwire was juicing during his assault on the single-season home run record in 1998 — a mark that Bonds later broke.
"He mentioned that other players do it and that's how they got ahead, that's how they achieved," Bell said. Dressed in a dark blue suit, Bonds alternately watched Bell on the stand, scribbled notes and whispered to one of his defence attorneys, Allen Ruby, as she testified.
Bell, wearing a gray pantsuit and white shirt, said she and Bonds met briefly on July 3, 1994, and attended a barbecue the next day. From there, they shared a romantic relationship that continued even after Bonds married another woman in 1999.
Bell said that Bonds' sexual performance declined in the later years of their relationship. She said that his testicles changed shape and shrank. She also testified that Bonds grew — and shaved — chest hair and developed acne on his back.
A visibly uncomfortable Bell testified that Bonds' behaviour also changed over time. "He was increasingly aggressive, irritable, agitated and very impatient," she said.
Bell became emotional as she testified that Bonds verbally abused her starting in 1999, saying that — in addition to threatening to decapitate her — Bonds said "he would cut out my breast implants because he paid for them."
Unprecedented power numbers
The second half of the Bonds-Bell relationship was the same period when Bonds noticeably bulked up and started posting unprecedented power numbers for the Giants. The seven-time NL MVP hit a season-record 73 homers in 2001 en route to a career total of 762 by the time of his last season in 2007, not long before he was indicted for his grand jury testimony.
In anticipation of defence attempts to portray Bell as a gold digger, Nedrow asked Bell about an interview and photograph shoot she did with Playboy that appeared in 2007. She posed nude and discussed Bonds' sexual performance in the magazine.
"I was trying to put my life together," she testified. "Maybe it wasn't the best decision."
Bell testified that Playboy agreed to pay her $100,000 US, but sent the money to her agent, David Hans Schmidt. Schmidt committed suicide in 2007 while under investigation for allegedly attempting to extort the actor Tom Cruise and Bell said she saw little of the Playboy payment — "about $17,000 or $18,000."
At times combative, sorrowful and composed, Bell spent most of Monday trying to deflect defence attorney Cristina Arguedas' vengeful portrayal of her. It was the first time anyone other than Ruby had questioned a witness for Bonds.
Arguedas spent long stretches discussing Bell's attempts to write a book about Bonds and steroids after questioning her about the radio tour she went on to promote her Playboy appearance.
Bell said she appeared on a "few" radio shows, and Arguedas shot back "More than 20?" It turned out that she appeared on about 20 radio shows, including the popular Howard Stern talk show.
Upset and embarrassed
Bell also acknowledged that she was upset and embarrassed when Bonds told her in 1998 he was marrying another woman. Bonds told Bell that they could continue to see each other when he was on the road with the Giants. Bell testified that after Bonds married, he told her there were "girlfriend cities and wife cities" and that she wasn't allowed to travel with him to New York, Montreal and Atlanta.
Bell said she went instead to San Diego, Houston and Miami. She recalled bitterly how Bonds told her to find her own way home from Houston after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when commercial airlines were shut down and Bonds was on the team plane.
Arguedas ran through a litany of financial benefits Bell received as a "road girlfriend." Bonds bought her several cars, including a new Toyota 4runner in 2000, helped pay her taxes one year and provided her with good seats to baseball games, including the 2002 World Series.
Bell also made a $111,000 profit from the sale of a Scottsdale, Ariz., house that Bonds provided her with $80,000 for the down payment.
All such testimony was designed to undermined Bell's credibility, portraying her as a scorned lover who lost a wealthy boyfriend to another woman. Arguedas hoped to convince the jury that Bell had motivation to lie about Bonds' steroid use because of their breakup.
Arguedas also quizzed Bell about an e-mail she sent to Bonds' website in April 2004 listing all the women she knew that Bonds was sleeping with in New York, Phoenix, Las Vegas and elsewhere.
"This is the guy who you described as having penile dysfunction," Arguedas said. "That's a lot of action."
Bonds covered his mouth in an apparent attempt to suppress a grin.