Barry Bonds Conviction Upheld by 9th Circuit
(CN) - Barry Bonds failed Friday to have the 9th Circuit reverse a jury's finding that he obstructed justice in the grand jury investigation of steroid use in baseball.
The government had convened the grand jury in 2003 after its raid of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) in the San Francisco Bay Area revealed evidence that professional trainer Greg Anderson distributed BALCO-manufactured steroids to Bonds and other professional athletes.
Bonds was given immunity in exchange for his testimony about Anderson and BALCO, but he did not give prosecutors much to work with.
After first denying that he ever knowingly using steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs provided by BALCO or Anderson, he gave a rambling statement about his father and being "a celebrity child" when pushed about whether Anderson gave him anything to self-inject.
Prosecutors claimed that Bonds lied because he was hiding a "powerful secret" that would have tainted his athletic accomplishments. During his trial in 2011, Anderson spent the three weeks sitting in jail for his refusal to testify.
Jurors ultimately found that the "celebrity child" answer obstructed the grand jury's investigation, but they were deadlocked on the perjury charges.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit refused to give Bonds a reversal Friday after hearing oral arguments in February.
The concise ruling describes various accomplishments the home-run king achieved before noting how his appearance changed toward the end of his career when he played for the San Francisco Giants.
"Bonds's weight and hat size increased, along with the batting power that transformed him into one of the most feared hitters ever to play the game," the ruling notes, describing the changes as "strong indications of the use of steroids."
In arguing for a reversal of the conviction, Bonds said his "celebrity child" answer cannot be deemed obstructive since it was factually true. The 9th Circuit disagreed.
"The problem is that while Bonds was a celebrity child, that fact was unrelated to the question, which asked whether Anderson provided Bonds with any self-injectable substances," Schroeder wrote. "When factually true statements are misleading or evasive, they can prevent the grand jury from obtaining truthful and responsive answers. They may therefore obstruct and impede the administration of justice within the meaning of the federal criminal statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1503, a statute that sweeps broadly."
Holding that this law applies to factually true statements that are evasive or misleading, Schroeder said "Bonds cannot escape criminal liability."
The panel also concluded that there was enough evidence for the jury to deem the response evasive.
"Bonds's description of his life as a celebrity child had nothing to do with the question, which asked whether Anderson provided him with self-injectable substances," Schroeder wrote. "The statement served to divert the grand jury's attention away from the relevant inquiry of the investigation, which was Anderson and BALCO's distribution of steroids and PEDs. The statement was therefore evasive.
"The statement was also at the very least misleading, because it implied that Bonds did not know whether Anderson distributed steroids and PEDs. Yet, the jury at trial heard testimony from the Giants former team athletic trainer who testified about a conversation he had with Bonds before Bonds's grand jury testimony. According to the trainer, Bonds stated in this conversation that he knew that Anderson distributed steroids. Bonds also told the trainer about techniques Anderson used to conceal the identities of players taking steroids. This evidence at trial showed that Bonds's statement to the grand jury was misleading. It is irrelevant that Bonds eventually provided a direct response to the question about self-injectable substances."