Posted by: mdegeorge | April 14, 2011

Bonds trial a cautionary tale for future witch-hunters

The media circus that failed to capture most of our attentions has ended. The man in the impeccable suit sitting silently and emotionlessly in the center ring has walked out with a smile on his lips. And the world was forever changed.

Ok, maybe not that last one.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

When the federal government sunk nine years and countless millions of dollars into the Barry Bonds investigation, it wasn’t to have a jury of his peers prove what baseball fans have known for the better part of two decades: that he’s evasive. Anyone who has ever seen a question posed to the disgraced slugger, be it from a journalist, congressman, or federal prosecutor, knows he’s not big on answering questions. It wasn’t to have a conviction on one count, a deadlocked jury on three and one count thrown out on pre-trial motion.

ESPN legal expert Lester Munson writes that based on the elements of the case, the conviction even on one count is a successful result for federal prosecutors. Up against an all-star defensive team armed with countless motion filings and lacking key witness, jail-time withstanding trainer Greg Anderson, the prosecutors bore a huge burden of proof with shaky witnesses, one of whom, Dr. Arthur Ting, made a major u-turn on the stand to the prosecutors’ surprise.

From a legal standpoint, that may be true. But in the court of public opinion, the government just orchestrated a decade-long charade of judicial overreach and face-saving with a result nowhere near justifying the time and effort put in to achieve it. Much like in baseball, that sports Bonds dabbled in to start this whole mess, 1-for-5 isn’t a good day, especially for someone at it for nine years and getting paid that much. Even the supposed victory is tainted by a prosecution motion to have the conviction overthrown not being immediately dismissed but instead being mulled over at a future hearing.

The prosecution is mulling over whether to pursue retrial on the three deadlocked cases. Despite my desire to see Bonds pay as much as he can, it’s my hope that they’ll decide against it and end this square dance.

The notion of bringing Bonds to court seemed to all the jilted sports fans as the way to find the smoking gun, the skeletons, or better yet, needles in his closet that would prompt a group of his peers to unequivocally state, “yes, he knew he took steroids, he lied about it.” Instead, the public whose blood-thirst has diminished more quickly than a team of investigators that looks increasingly fanatical received four days of deliberations for “uh, he was kind of evasive, and I don’t know if he knew he was taking steroids.”

As the New York TimesGeorge Vecsey points out, this conviction is very much for a serious crime in which Bonds, should he lose his appeal, could face real jail time. The decision also provides the first stepping stones of concrete judicial and legal recourse beyond journalistic indignation for banning steroid takers form the Hall of Fame.

Hopefully the degree of ignominy this case has brought will serve as a warning for future cases of this ilk. When federal investigators charge in on their white horses of justice, trying to exact their commensurate pounds of flesh for being draw into the affair, they’d better have something better to offer than hung juries and dismissed counts. The invasion of the government, however they’d like to spin it, is a grandstanding play. It’s the government’s way of saying they’re still in control, a power play invading the court of popular opinion.

To justify my interest in the matter, don’t leave me half-baked court proceedings and tell me something has been accomplished. Whatever athlete is next on Jeff Novitzky’s hit list, I only hope he has enough evidence to get some real results, or else know enough to stay home and track down real criminals for the next decade.

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Responses

  1. […] great execution that wasn’t of Barry Bonds should have been a hint. But now that the federal prosecutors going after Roger Clemens on charges of perjury and […]


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