Handicapping the Bonds witnesses

SAN FRANCISCO -- The trial is only two days old, but it's already clear that the federal prosecutors in the Barry Bonds perjury trial have some witnesses who will do remarkably well and some witnesses who could be disasters. Here's a look at each of the prosecution's more important witnesses and their prospects for success, listed in order of relative strength starting with the strongest:

JEFF NOVITZKY: The leader of the BALCO investigation since it began nearly nine years ago, Novitzky not only put together a remarkable investigation, he is an impressive witness. The investigation that he described to the jury on Tuesday included a weekly examination of BALCO's trash for more than a year and lightning raids on BALCO's headquarters and the homes of BALCO founder and CEO Victor Conte and Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson.

Novitzky told the jury that the materials he discovered at BALCO gave him enough evidence to obtain a search warrant for Anderson's home, and he did all of that in a single day. It's the kind of thing that would take most agent task forces a week or more. As you watch Novitzky describe what he has done in the BALCO probe, you wish that he was the guy in charge of finding Osama Bin Laden.

Poised and patient in his answers to all questions, Novitzky turned and faced the jurors as he responded to questions from prosecutor Jeff Nedrow. His language was simple and direct. The jurors were transfixed, many of them taking notes on the details of his investigation. Under cross-examination from Bonds attorney Allen Ruby, a highly skilled and experienced litigator, Novitzky matched wits successfully on every answer.

In a series of questions about efforts to prepare former Bonds personal manager Steve Hoskins for his trial testimony, Ruby asked what he and Novitzky discussed. Novitzky instantly recognized his opportunity and told Ruby and the jurors that they discussed Hoskins' recording of a conversation with Anderson in which Anderson described his technique for injecting Bonds in different parts of his anatomy without causing the abscesses and infections that are common in steroid use. It was testimony that the prosecutors had no hope of presenting to the jury until Novitzky jumped on Ruby's question.

Anderson has refused to testify despite being ordered to jail again Tuesday. Judge Susan Illston later ordered the testimony about Hoskins' recording stricken from the record, but the jury heard about Anderson's injections. One of the charges against Bonds is that he lied when he told the BALCO grand jury that Anderson had never injected him with anything. Novitzky not only told the jurors of injections, he described them in detail. There is little doubt that Ruby regrets asking the open-ended question that allowed Novitzky to hit it out of the park.

STAN CONTE: He's the San Francisco Giants' trainer, and he's no relation to Victor Conte. According to the opening statement from lead prosecutor Matthew Parrella on Tuesday, Conte will describe for the jury a conversation that he had with Bonds before Bonds' testimony to the grand jury. Bonds was, according to Parrella, talking with trainer Conte "to get his facts straight." As they conferred, Bonds told Conte there were two separate things to consider: what he knew and what he planned to tell the jury.

Parrella did not offer further details, but his preview of Conte's testimony indicates that Conte will offer to jurors potentially devastating admissions from Bonds. If Bonds told Conte that he knew that Anderson was giving him steroids, it will be very difficult for the Bonds legal team to continue to assert that Bonds did not know what he was taking. Conte's testimony may be a turning point in the trial.

DON CATLIN: He's the world's leading researcher on testing for steroids and is the founder of the UCLA lab that tests Olympic athletes and many others. When BALCO's products known as "the cream" and "the clear" hit the market, Catlin developed the lab test that was effective in detecting them.

At Novitzky's request, he retested Bonds' urine sample from MLB's survey testing in 2003. He found three things that are problems for Bonds: the BALCO drug known as "the clear," some exogenous (artificial) testosterone, and Clomid, a drug used for women's estrogen problems that also serves as a masking agent for steroids. His findings are powerful evidence for the government and will provide serious problems for Bonds' lawyers. They will counter Catlin with a hired expert, but Catlin's record of pathfinding science and his long record of service to the anti-doping movement will make him a formidable witness.

KATHY HOSKINS: Bonds told the grand jury under oath that Anderson never injected him with anything. Hoskins, the younger sister of Steve Hoskins who worked for Bonds as a personal shopper, will testify that she saw Anderson inject human growth hormone into Bonds' navel with a small syringe.

According to prosecutors, when she walked into the room as Bonds and Anderson were preparing for the injection, Bonds said to Anderson, "Don't worry. She's my girl." Reassured by Bonds, Anderson did the injection with Hoskins observing, according to prosecutor Parrella's opening statement. She's not Bonds' girl anymore. She is now a powerful prosecution weapon against Bonds. Her eyewitness testimony will be a serious problem for the Bonds legal team. Bonds' lawyers will try to cross-examine her with accusations that she is bitter because Bonds fired her, but it may not work.

KIMBERLY BELL: Bonds dumped Bell on May 23, 2003, after a nine-year romance that began during his first marriage and continued into his second marriage. Bell will tell the jurors (eight are women) that she saw Bonds' testicles atrophy as he did cycles of steroids. It's a known side effect of steroid use.

She will also testify that his sexual performance deteriorated, another known side effect. But Bell already has been telling her story in a book, in Playboy magazine and in numerous broadcast appearances. The cross-examination from the Bonds legal team will be brutal. The attorneys are probably arguing now over which lawyer will receive what they think is a choice assignment. Her testimony could backfire for the government before a jury dominated by women.

STEVE HOSKINS: Although Hoskins has strong evidence to offer in support of the prosecution, his veracity will be a prime target for the Bonds lawyers. Hoskins can describe various conversations and events that demonstrate Bonds' use of steroids. He was involved in them directly as Bonds' personal manager. But, early in the BALCO investigation before Bonds was involved, Bonds says he caught Hoskins forging his signature on memorabilia contracts and selling counterfeit merchandise. When he confronted Hoskins, they agreed to end their partnership, according to Ruby's opening statement. But, Ruby says, Hoskins continued to sell things, causing Bonds to report him to the FBI.

Ruby is already having fun attacking Hoskins and the government's decision to ignore Bonds' complaints and use Hoskins as a witness against Bonds. He used the phrase "conflict of interest" at least 10 times on Tuesday in his opening statement and in his cross-examination of Novitzky. When Hoskins testifies later this week, there will be more of it, vastly reducing Hoskins' value to the prosecution.

There is little doubt that the Bonds lawyers will do some serious damage in their cross-examinations of Bell and Steve Hoskins. But there is also little doubt that Novitzky, Stan Conte, Catlin and Kathy Hoskins will provide some unexpected strength to the prosecution's case. A prosecution case that has looked weak is beginning to grow a bit stronger.

Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who reports on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.