By Ian Thoms
Former Major League Baseball pitching ace Roger Clemens was found not guilty Monday of lying to Congress about his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs, marking the second time the potential Hall of Fame pitcher has escaped the controversial charges.
A federal jury in Washington acquitted Clemens on all six counts against him after less than 11 hours of deliberations. He was accused of perjury, obstruction of Congress and making false statements. The verdict was a tough defeat for a U.S. Department of Justice still reeling from its recent failure to convict two-time presidential candidate John Edwards in another controversial prosecution.
The verdict put an end to Clemens' long-running second perjury trial — the first ended abruptly in a mistrial in July 2011 after prosecutors showed jurors inadmissible evidence. Attorneys called 46 witnesses, including Clemens' wife Debbie, DNA and forensic experts, and fellow MLB pitcher Andy Pettitte, during 26 days of testimony.
"It's been a long time coming," Clemens' attorney Russell Hardin Jr. said after the verdict. "Using steroids and HGH is cheating and totally contrary to his career."
Clemens hugged his wife and their four sons after the verdict was read, and teared up on the courthouse steps as he addressed well-wishers and the media.
"It's a time to be really thankful," Clemens said on the courthouse steps. "It's been a hard five years."
The pitcher faced a combined maximum sentence of 30 years and a $1.5 million fine if convicted on all six charges, including one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making false statements during his 2008 deposition and congressional hearing testimony and two counts of perjury.
Clemens testified during a February 2008 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing that he had never taken steroids or human growth hormone, which had the potential to undermine MLB's investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Clemens has been linked to the investigation since May 2007, when Internal Revenue Service agent Jeff Novitzky first contacted the pitcher's then-trainer Brian McNamee.
Prosecutors made their case largely based on McNamee's allegations that he injected the pitcher with performance-enhancing drugs between 1998 and 2001. Clemens countered the claims by telling investigators McNamee had given him injections during their training, but they were vitamin B-12 and lidocaine, which he regularly received from team doctors as well.
To bolster his claims against his former client, McNamee produced a hodgepodge of physical evidence laced with Clemens' DNA and steroid residue in 2008, including blood-stained cotton balls, needles and vials of steroids and human growth hormone, all stored for seven years in a crushed Miller Lite beer can.
But some of the so-called beer can evidence couldn't be linked to the pitching star, and McNamee admitted that he had stuffed paraphernalia from other athletes' injections into the can over time.
Clemens' attorneys jumped on the myriad inconsistencies in McNamee's testimony and told jurors that all roads to a Clemens conviction on any charge had to go through McNamee. Even the other witnesses' testimony corroborating the trainer's claims stemmed from information from McNamee himself, the defense said, which they believed fostered reasonable doubt.
"Brian McNamee defines reasonable doubt, standing there on his own," Clemens attorney Michael Attanasio said during closing arguments in the trial. "If Brian McNamee told you something in one of the graver matters in your life, would you take that to the bank?"
The defense also scored a win early on in the trial when Clemens' friend and fellow pitcher Pettitte admitted that his confidence in his memory of a brief conversation with Clemens over steroid use hovered at 50-50. Pettitte told jurors Clemens had admitted using human growth hormone during a conversation in 1999 or 2000, which Clemens recanted in 2005, saying his wife Debbie had used the substance, not him.
Pettitte was the prosecution's only witness other than McNamee to claim during the trial that he knew Clemens had used performance-enhancing drugs during his career.
The prosecution team, which has faced criticism for the manpower assigned to the case, issued a short statement, but refused to comment further on the outcome.
"The jury has spoken in this matter, and we thank them for their service," the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia said in a statement Monday. "We respect the judicial process and the jury's verdict. The U.S. attorney's office also wishes to thank the investigators and prosecutors, who pursued this case with tremendous dedication and professionalism after its referral to us from Congress."
The jurors unanimously declined to speak with the press, and left the courthouse without fanfare.
Clemens is represented by Russell Hardin Jr., Andy Drumheller, Derek S. Hollingsworth and Jeremy T. Monthy of Rusty Hardin & Associates LLP and by Michael Attanasio of Cooley LLP.
The case is U.S. v. William R. Clemens, case number 1:10-cr-00223, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
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