Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Big day for Clemens prosecutors
By Lester Munson
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It has taken a while, but the government's evidence against Roger Clemens is beginning to form a foundation that could be a problem for the former New York Yankees pitcher.
For eight days, prosecutors plodded through what appeared to be trivial details and inflicted the jury with hours of repetitive questioning of witnesses. They inexplicably put up team photos from Clemens' years with the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays. At least five times they showed the jury an aerial photo of Fenway Park during a night game, and at one point had a witness explain that the Green Monster was 37 feet tall. It all seemed disconnected and even pointless.
Judge Reggie Walton was growing tired of what he was seeing in the prosecution's evidence, and he let them know about it Tuesday in a six-minute high-volume tongue lashing before jurors filed into the courtroom. "This is a waste of time," Walton said. "The jurors are fed up, and someone is going to pay a price."
The judge was particularly incensed with prosecutors' use of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue photo of a smirking Clemens reclining on the ground with his bikini-clad wife, Debbie, standing over him with a baseball bat. "There is blatant disregard for the rules that govern how cases are tried," Walton said.
But the prosecutors began to turn the corner not long after the judge's diatribe. The pieces of evidence began to fall into place in ways that may produce an unexpectedly coherent package of guilt.
With testimony from three team trainers and former clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski's surprisingly charming story of his life as a steroid dealer, prosecutors moved the focus from their own setbacks to the possibility that Clemens lied when he testified before a Congressional committee.
The trainers from the Red Sox and the Blue Jays were unanimous and categorical in establishing through their testimony a set of procedures that govern training rooms and injections of medications for players.
Clemens told the Congressional committee in February 2008 that he was never injected with steroids or HGH and that he was injected only with lidocaine, a pain killer, and vitamin B12. It was team trainers, Clemens said, who did the injections.
In his testimony before the House committee, Clemens went so far as to say that "four or five needles" with B12 would be "lined up and ready to go" in the trainers' rooms after games. The government contends that this statement was one of 15 lies that Clemens told Congress. If the jury agrees with the government on any one of the 15 specific statements, Clemens would be convicted of obstruction of Congress.
In total disagreement with what Clemens told the Congress, the trainers said that only team doctors could give injections, and that any injections would be given in the doctor's treatment area. Asked what authority trainers had to administer injections, two said "none whatsoever" and the third said "zero."
Two of the three (Charles Moss of the Red Sox and Melvin "Tommy" Craig of the Blue Jays) said they had never seen needles "lined up and ready to go" during the years when Clemens played for their teams. The third, James Rowe, who succeeded Moss with the Red Sox, was less certain, saying only that he "couldn't remember" seeing needles lined up.
The trainers' assertions will be powerful evidence for prosecutors when they sum up their case in a final argument to the jury. When the jury deliberates, the jurors will be asked to answer specifically whether Clemens is guilty of any of the 15 statements, and it will be difficult for the Clemens legal team to explain that Clemens was truthful when he described the needles "lined up and ready to go."
Even when Rusty Hardin, the lead lawyer for the Clemens defense, turned one trainer's attention during cross-examination to Clemens' remarkable work habits, it backfired. Hardin led Craig to testify that Clemens' training methods were so impressive that Roy Halladay "tore a page from his book" and adopted the methods.
But, in a nifty response, assistant U.S. Attorney Gilberto Guerrero highlighted for the jury that Craig observed that Clemens "did whatever it took" to maintain proper conditioning.
It's a phrase we are likely to hear again and again from the prosecutions. They will argue that Clemens "did whatever it took" to prolong his career, including the use of steroids and HGH.
Although the cross-examination of Radomski will continue in an abbreviated court session on Wednesday, it is clear that his account of his dealing in steroids will be an effective prelude to the government's presentation of its star witness, former Clemens trainer Brian McNamee.
In an odd way, Radomski opened the door to themes that McNamee will emphasize. In a New York accent similar to McNamee's, Radomski introduced the jury to the arcana of performance-enhancing drugs. He described the different needles and the different compounds that can be used. He explained that steroids and HGH can be used for endurance and recuperation, two things that are critical to starting pitchers such as Clemens.
And he did it all in a disarming and charming tone that kept the jurors focused on everything he said. If the lawyers and the judge would get out of his way, Radomski is the kind of guy who could succeed in selling the 16 jurors the natural "fat blasting" and "mass building" products that he says he is now selling.