Roger Clemens was acquitted Monday on all charges that he obstructed and lied to Congress in denying he used performance-enhancing drugs to extend his long career as one of the greatest and most-decorated pitchers in baseball history.
Fierce on the pitching mound in his playing days, Clemens was quietly emotional after the verdict was announced. "I'm very thankful," he said, choking up as he spoke. "It's been a hard five years," said the pitcher, who was retried after an earlier prosecution ended in a mistrial.
Hall of Fame bid
Cleared in court, Roger Clemens will now take his case before a larger jury: some 600 Hall of Fame voters.
Twelve jurors acquitted him Monday on charges of lying to Congress when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs. Come December, the voters will decide whether Clemens — one of the best pitchers in baseball history — should be granted or denied the game's highest honour.
"I think everybody believes he was guilty in some form or fashion," said John Harper of the New York Daily News, who doesn't plan to vote for Clemens. "I think that's the real issue as far as voters go. I know that's an issue for me."
ESPN reporter/analyst Tim Kurkjian, a Hall voter for more than two decades, said: "It doesn't change how I view him. I think he did something and they just couldn't prove it. I think most rational people look at it that way. I was going to vote for him anyway."
Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa all will be first-timers on the ballot, which in some ways will be a referendum for the Steroids Era. Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio also will be making their initial appearances.
"To me, Roger Clemens was a Hall of Famer from the moment he retired, just like Barry Bonds," San Francisco Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins said. "I don't much care for them as people, but that's irrelevant, and I've never believed in the Hall of Fame's 'character' clause. It never seemed to apply to a number of shady characters who made the Hall of Fame over the years, so I simply ignore it. I base my vote on the best players during their time. Cheating has been part of the game since its inception, whether it was gambling, doctored balls or pre-steroid drugs. It's as essential to the game's fabric as the sacrifice fly."
Asked about Clemens' chances for making the Hall, NBC's Bob Costas said: "A guilty verdict would have damaged his reputation. It remains to be seen how much or if this verdict helps it."
Costas doesn't cast a ballot; Hall of Fame voters are veteran members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"I think some people will assume that he may very well have lied, but that the government couldn't prove it," former baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent said. "They may have real reservations about his record in light of those questions. But I think it modestly improves his chances of being elected to the Hall of Fame."
Clemens spent 4 1/2 years proclaiming his innocence after Brian McNamee, his former personal trainer, told baseball investigator George Mitchell that he injected the pitcher with steroids and human growth hormone about 16 to 21 times during 1998, 2000 and 2001.
On Monday, a jury of eight women and four men agreed with Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner.
"I think it's great for the game because we can stop talking about it now," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "I'm pretty sure baseball fans are happy it's over."
Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, a longtime friend of Clemens and a key witness in the case, declined comment before Monday night's game. Pettitte was believed to have given Clemens a boost when he testified there was a 50-50 chance he might have misunderstood a conversation during the 1999-00 off-season that the government claimed was proof Clemens admitted using HGH.
"We get all these trials out of the way, we can move on," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, a former Clemens teammate. "Now, it seems like we're beyond it."
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig declined comment on the verdict, announced in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Union head Michael Weiner said Clemens was "vindicated."
"We look forward to him taking his rightful place in the Hall of Fame," Weiner said.
Vincent described it as a "big win" for Clemens and his lawyer. "It's a major defeat for the Justice Department — one of a series," he said. "I think the government is at a huge disadvantage against really good outside lawyers."
Clemens is the latest sports figure to frustrate the federal government's efforts to nab suspected steroid cheats despite prosecution costs of tens of millions of dollars.
Bonds, a seven-time National League MVP, was convicted of a single obstruction of justice count that he gave an evasive answer to a grand jury in 2003, and charges were dropped last year that he made false statements when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs.
A grand jury investigation of Lance Armstrong was dropped last winter without charges being filed, though the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency filed formal accusations last week that could strip the seven-time Tour de France winner of his victories in that famous race. Armstrong denies any doping.
Jeff Novitzky and his teams of investigators have obtained only two guilty pleas from athletes (Olympic track star Marion Jones and former NFL defensive lineman Dana Stubblefield); and two convictions (Bonds and sprint cyclist Tammy Thomas). Jones, who also pleaded guilty to making false statements about her association with a check-fraud scheme, was the only targeted athlete to serve a day in prison.
Bonds' conviction still must survive an appeal.
Clemens has no such worries. With a 354-184 record, 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, he would have been a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer when the votes are totalled in January. But since the day the Mitchell Report was released, his reputation has been tainted by suspicion.
Still, Cleveland Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin was thrilled for Clemens, one of his boyhood heroes growing up in Texas.
"If a case goes on that long and the jury decides he's not guilty, then obviously he's telling the truth," he said.
— The Associated Press
This case was lengthy, but the deliberations were relatively brief. Jurors returned their verdict after less than 10 hours over several days. The outcome ended a 10-week trial that capped the government's investigation of the pitcher known as "The Rocket" for the fastball that he retained into his 40s. He won seven Cy Young Awards, emblematic of the league's best pitcher each year in a 24-year career with the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays and Astros.
The verdict was the latest blow to the government's legal pursuit of athletes accused of illicit drug use.
A seven-year investigation into home run king Barry Bonds yielded a guilty verdict on only one count of obstruction of justice in a San Francisco court last year, with the jury deadlocked on whether Bonds lied to a grand jury when he denied knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs.
A two-year, multi-continent investigation of cyclist Lance Armstrong was recently closed with no charges brought, though the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency filed formal accusations last week that could strip the seven-time Tour de France winner of his victories in that storied race. Armstrong denies any doping.
In a non-drug-related case, the Clemens outcome also comes on the heels of the Department of Justice's failure to gain a conviction in the high-profile corruption trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards
Late Monday, as the jury foreman read the acquittal on the final count, Clemens bit his lower lip and rubbed a tear from his eye.
Clemens, family members and his lawyers took turns exchanging hugs. At one point, Clemens and his four sons gathered in the middle of the courtroom, arms interlocked like football players in a huddle, and sobbing could be heard. Debbie Clemens dabbed her husband's eyes with a tissue.
Accused of cheating to achieve and extend his success — and then facing felony charges that he lied about it — Clemens declared outside the courthouse, "I put a lot of hard work into that career."
His chief lawyer, Rusty Hardin, walked up to a bank of microphones and exclaimed: "Wow!"
Hardin said Clemens had to hustle to get to court in time to hear the verdict. "All of us had told Roger there wouldn't be a verdict for two, three or four days, so he was actually working out with his sons almost at the Washington Monument when he got the call that there was a verdict."
Prosecutors declined to comment as they left the courthouse. But the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a written statement, "The jury has spoken in this matter, and we thank them for their service. We respect the judicial process and the jury's verdict."
Clemens, 49, was charged with two counts of perjury, three counts of making false statements and one count of obstructing Congress when he testified at a deposition and at a nationally televised hearing in February 2008. The charges centred on his repeated denials that he used steroids and human growth hormone during a 24-year career produced 354 victories.
The first attempt to try Clemens last year ended in a mistrial when prosecutors played a snippet of video evidence that had previously been ruled inadmissible.
Still, Monday's verdict is unlikely to settle the matter in sports circles as to whether Clemens cheated in the latter stages of a remarkable career that extended into a period in which performance-enhancing drug use in baseball was thought to be prevalent. Clemens himself told Congress at the 2008 hearing that "no matter what we discuss here today, I'm never going to have my name restored."
A crucial barometer comes this fall, when Clemens' name appears on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. His statistics would normally make him a shoo-in for baseball's greatest honour, but voters have been reluctant to induct premier players — such as Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro — whose careers were tainted by allegations of drug use.
Clemens capped his career with age-defying performances. He went 18-4 and won his seventh Cy Young Award at the age of 41, and the next year posted a career-best 1.87 ERA. His 4,672 strikeouts ranked third in baseball history.
The government's case relied heavily on the testimony of Clemens' longtime strength coach, Brian McNamee, who testified he injected Clemens with steroids in 1998, 2000 and 2001 and with HGH in 2000. McNamee produced a needle and other materials he said were from a steroids injection of Clemens in 2001, items that McNamee said he stored in and around a Miller Lite beer can inside a FedEx box for some six years.
But McNamee was the only person to claim firsthand knowledge of Clemens using steroids and HGH, and even prosecutors conceded their star witness was a "flawed man." Clemens' lawyers relentlessly attacked McNamee's credibility and integrity. They pointed out that his story had changed over the years and implied that he conjured up the allegations against Clemens to placate federal investigators.
Some items associated with the beer can were found to have Clemens' DNA and steroids, but the defence called the evidence "garbage" and claimed it had been contaminated or manipulated by McNamee.
Other evidence offered tenuous links between Clemens and performance-enhancing drugs. Former teammate Andy Pettitte recalled a conversation in which Clemens supposedly admitted using HGH, but Pettitte said under cross-examination that there was a "50-50" chance that he had misheard.
Convicted drug dealer Kirk Radomski testified that he supplied McNamee with HGH for a starting pitcher and even sent a shipment to Clemens' house under McNamee's name, but Radomski had no way of knowing if any of the HGH was specifically used on Clemens. The pitcher's wife, Debbie, admitted receiving an HGH shot from McNamee, but she and McNamee differed over when the injection occurred and whether Clemens was present.
One juror said the panel was troubled by the prosecution's reliance on McNamee
"We just could not believe that they even called their key witness, the drug dealer," juror Joyce Robinson-Paul told the Daily News in New York, in reference to McNamee.
Clemens' lawyers contended that the pitcher's success resulted from a second-to-none work ethic and an intense workout regimen dating to his high school days. They said that Clemens was indeed injected by McNamee — but that the needles contained the vitamin B12 and the anesthetic lidocaine and not performance-enhancing drugs.
Clemens was invited to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2008 after he publicly denied accusations made in the Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball that he had used steroids and HGH. He first appeared at a congressional deposition, where he said: "I never used steroids. Never performance-enhancing steroids." He made a similarly categorical denial at a hearing about a week later, appearing alongside McNamee, who stuck to his story.
Soon after, committee chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and ranking member Tom Davis, R-Va., asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Clemens had lied under oath. In 2010, a grand jury indicted him on the six counts. Clemens lawyer Hardin revealed at the time that federal prosecutors made Clemens a plea offer but the former pitcher rejected it.
Both Waxman and Davis accepted the verdict while defending their decision to send the case to the Justice Department.
"The committee referred Mr. Clemens to the Justice Department because we had significant doubts about the truthfulness of his testimony in 2008," Waxman said. "The decision whether Mr. Clemens committed perjury is a decision the jury had to make and I respect its decision."
Davis said, " I think he's gone through enough. We did the appropriate thing in referring it over to Justice. But hopefully this will put it behind him. He's a good citizen."