SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5 / KCBS) — A jury was chosen in federal court in San Francisco Monday afternoon for the perjury trial of home-run champion and former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston announced the selection of a jury after a laborious, five-hour questioning process — as some of the prospective jurors from a pool of about 100 said they loved Bonds so much that they couldn’t be impartial, while others indicated they already believed that he was guilty.
But Illston and lawyers for the prosecution and defense were eventually able to winnow that pool into 12 jurors and two alternates for the criminal case of USA v. Bonds, a trial that could take up to four weeks.
The jury was made up of eight women and four men. Two women on the jury panel are African-American and the two alternates are Asian women. The remainder of the jurors are caucasian.
“Congratulations. You have been selected for this jury,” the judge told the jurors before admonishing them not to watch TV, listen to the radio, read newspapers, or utilize social media Web sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter during the duration of the trial.
“The only way we can provide a fair trial is if we all focus only on the evidence that comes into this court,” Illston said.
KCBS’ Bob Melrose Reports:
Bonds, 46, is accused of four counts of making false statements and one count of obstructing justice when he told a federal grand jury in Dec. 4, 2003 testimony that he never knowingly took steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.
With a jury seated, opening statements of about an hour each for the prosecution and defense were set for Tuesday morning.
Then Bonds’ trainer, Greg Anderson, is due to be called as the first witness and will face the possibility of being jailed again for contempt of court if he refuses to testify as he has done in past court proceedings.
Prosecutors, who allege that Anderson gave Bonds steroids and other drugs, have asked Illston to jail him for the duration of the trial if he doesn’t take the witness stand.
During the questioning of prospective jurors Monday, defense attorney
Cris Arguedas briefly introduced Bonds and the defense team to the panel.
A trim-looking Bonds, wearing a black business suit, white shirt and silver tie, rose silently and made a slight bow to the jury.
Bonds had walked into the federal courthouse building on Golden Gate Avenue about an hour before jury selection began. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him in the case that is now more than three years old; Bonds was initially charged in November 2007.
When he initially entered his plea in December 2007, he was met by thousands of media, fans and others as television helicopters hovered overhead. However, much of that attention was missing on Monday as only about a dozen photographers and a few fans milled outside the federal building to see Bonds.
Inside the courtroom, while Bonds sat with his star-studded legal team at the defense table, Jeff Novitzky – the federal agent who led the investigation into the sale of performance-enhancing drugs by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative – joined the prosecutors. Bonds is the biggest name to go to trial from the BALCO steroids probe.
Monday’s jury selection process began with the dismissal of more than three-dozen prospective jurors on grounds of hardship or possible bias.
The judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers then questioned a panel of more than 30 remaining candidates about whether they could be fair and impartial. In the final stage of the process, the prosecution and defense were able to dismiss additional jurors with so-called peremptory challenges without giving a reason.
A San Francisco resident who described himself as a former Air Force accounting specialist told the judge, “I would be reluctant to render a judgment against a great athlete like Mr. Bonds.”
A Moraga woman said she would have difficulty being fair because she formerly worked as a flight attendant on charter flights for football and baseball teams.
“I’m still getting over my baseball charters,” she told the judge.
Some potential jurors never actually appeared in the courtroom and were excused on the basis of a written questionnaire they filled out last week.
“I’m a Barry Bonds fan and I’m a huge SF Giants fan. It’s my life. I don’t know if I could judge Mr. Bonds after providing me with so much entertainment. It’s an intimate relationship,” prospective juror No. 22 wrote on the questionnaire. “I don’t think I could find him guilty.”
No. 22 identified himself as age 35 and working at Target as an “in-stock team member.”
“My opinion is that steroids is ok to be used since these are the jobs of athletes,” prospective juror No. 29 stated in his questionnaire before being dismissed. “If a player must advance in his/her jobs, supplements should be able to be used.”
Most of those who remained told the judge they could stay impartial, though several with strong impressions of the case still remained in the jury pool, taking direct questions from the judge
“I would be reluctant to render a judgment against a great athlete like Bonds,” juror No. 24, a single, 61-year-old man living on disability payments, told Illston. “It would color my judgment.”
One of the prospective jurors whom prosecutors wanted excused wrote on her questionnaire: “He is guilty. He lied. He has suffered enuf. There should have been some sort of settlement.” The prospective juror identified herself as 61 years old and holding a law degree.
Another juror identified herself as an administrative assistant with Google Inc.
“Everyone looks up to these athletes, including young kids and its sad they take drugs to do better. What are kids learning?” the 42-year-old wrote on her questionnaire. “I have young impressionable kids and they do sports. I would be distraught if they felt they had to take drugs to do well in any arena.”
But Illston cautioned the group of prospective jurors, “You will not be asked to decide whether you like steroids or don’t like steroids. The question is whether the testimony was truthful or not.”
“You will be the judges of the facts. We will ask you to decide the facts just based on the evidence in this courtroom the testimony on the witness stand, the documents and nothing else,” she said.
The perjury trial comes seven years after Bonds, who played for the Ginats when he hit 73 homers in a season and when he broke Hank Aaron’s career home-run record, allegedly lied to the grand jury investigating BALCO.
The former Giants outfielder set the Major League Baseball record of 762 home runs during his last season with the team in 2007. He also hit the single-season record of 73 in 2001.
Bonds is the last of 11 defendants who were charged in federal court in San Francisco with either illegal drug distribution or lying in connection with the BALCO probe.
Eight defendants – including two BALCO officials, a chemist and Bonds’ trainer, Greg Anderson – pleaded guilty to various charges.
Two others – cycling champion Tammy Thomas and Olympic track coach Trevor Graham – went to trial in Illston’s court and were separately convicted of lying to investigators or the grand jury.
The five counts against Bonds each carry a theoretical maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if he is convicted. But on similar charges, Thomas and Graham were sentenced to six months and one year of home confinement, respectively.
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