Jury selected for Bonds perjury case
Home run king has denied knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs
Barry Bonds finally sat across the court room Monday from the 12 people who will judge whether or not the greatest home-run hitter of all time lied about taking drugs.
Following a daylong selection process, eight women and four men were picked to hear the federal government's case against the 46-year-old former San Francisco Giants star, who is charged with four counts of lying to a grand jury and one count of obstruction for testifying in 2003 that he never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs.
Among the jurors there was no shortage of opinion on baseball's Steroids Era or drugs in sports, though all indicated they could rule impartially in the case of Bonds, who holds the records for home runs in a career (762) and a season (73).
Juror No. 69 was angered Congress investigated steroids in sports "on my dime."
"They should be solving things like the national debt," he said.
He made it onto the panel, even though he said Bonds had "probably not (received) a fair trial in the court of public opinion."
Jurors were identified by number rather than name, and U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said their identities won't be revealed until the day after the verdict.
"We got a fair and impartial jury selected after an open process," said Bonds' lead lawyer, Allen Ruby, said outside the courthouse.
From the initial pool of potential jurors who filled out 19-page questionnaires last week, Illston dismissed 38 based on answers, which included whether they had attended Giants games in the last five years, and whether they were familiar with the Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball or congressional hearings into steroids use. Several were dismissed because they said they had formed opinions on the case.
Another was dropped because of the death of a grandmother last weekend, and two more because they said jury duty would be a hardship. Illston denied three other hardship requests.
Thirty-six underwent 70 minutes of questioning from Illston in the morning, and another hour from prosecutors and defence lawyers in the afternoon. After a break, Illston's clerk read the numbers of the chosen 12 and two alternates — down from the four originally intended. Two jurors, both women, are black and 10 are white in a case that could see race become an issue.
Juror No. 24, an Air Force veteran who was not selected, brought it up under questioning. "I pretty much think he was singled out because of his race," the man said.
Juror No. 56, one of the black women selected, said for baseball and the NFL the "commissioner's office should deal with" steroids. "I think it's up to them and not the government to be involved," she said.
Bonds, who in his playing days relaxed by leaning back in his black, leather recliner in the corner of the Giants clubhouse, was attired in a dark suit, white shirt and silver tie and sat in a brown swivel chair about 20 feet from the judge on the 19th floor of the Phillip Burton Federal Building. Bonds spent most of the day speaking quietly with his lawyers and looking at the jurors as they answered questions.
A short distance away at the prosecution table, his back to Bonds, was Jeff Novitzky, the federal agent who has pursued athletes over drug allegations for eight years with dogged intensity. Bonds is the biggest star to face trial because of his efforts.
Bonds' legal team, which spilled over to a side table and the first row of spectator seats, outnumbered the government's 13-5. When his primary lawyers, Ruby and Cristina C. Arguedas, gave their names for the record, Illston responded: "Is that it?"
Arguedas said the key to picking the jurors was picking those who will only consider the evidence presented in court and not consider the facts debated in public until now.
"These people are going to be the true experts in the case," she told reporters.
Bonds earned $192.8 million US from the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants during 23 professional seasons, including 22 in the majors, according to an analysis of his contracts by The Associated Press, so it's no surprise he can afford the best defence money can buy.
About a dozen photographers milled outside, but few fans were there to see Bonds walk into the courthouse.
Several jurors said they could keep an open mind even though they had heard much about the case because they believed media reports on Bonds either contained inaccuracies or omissions.
For some, though, the glare of this case was too much to deal with.
"I would be reluctant to render a judgment against a great athlete like Bonds," juror No. 24, a single, 61-year-old man living on disability payments, told Illston. "It would colour my judgment." He was not selected.
Juror No. 74 said her experience working as a flight attendant years ago would make it tough for her to be fair.
"I'm still getting over my baseball charters," she said.
So the proceedings could be heard in two others rooms of the court house, Illston's clerk, Tracy Forakis, walked around with a handheld microphone for jurors to speak into.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew A. Parrella asked whether any jurors were Giants fans, and nine raised their hands. When Parrella asked whether the Giants were on trial, none responded. Three jurors raised their hands when asked whether Bonds was an inspiration or someone to look up to.
"He was a good baseball player and everyone admired his hitting ability," juror No. 94 said, adding that would not cause the defendant to be treated differently. The woman was not selected.
Illston estimated the trial will take about four weeks.
When juror No. 94 said she had a trip scheduled to start April 25, Illston checked her calendar, looked up and said, in a somewhat surprised voice, "Well, you know, so do I."