A federal jury acquitted pitching ace Roger Clemens of all charges on Monday. The jury found Clemens not guilty of lying to Congress and obstructing a congressional investigation into performance-enhancing drugs.
Clemens' family — his wife, four sons and sisters — sat tensely in the front row as the jury of eight women and four men filed in. The jury foreman then read out the not-guilty verdict six times to the perjury and obstruction charges. As the last verdict was read, Clemens' sons, holding hands tightly, began to weep. His lawyer, Rusty Hardin, gave the jury a thumbs-up and then bear-hugged the seven-time Cy Young Award winner. Moments later, the Clemens family stood together, in a huddle, with their arms around each other.
Afterward, Clemens seemed calm on the courthouse steps as he thanked his family and friends. But when he began to talk about his career, he choked up, wiping his eyes. After about 30 seconds of fighting back tears, he said, "Phew, I put a lot of hard work into that career."
A Steadfast Defense
Defense lawyer Hardin said Clemens' crime was that he refused to admit to something he had not done.
Clemens has steadfastly denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs — a denial he made under oath to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in 2008. The committee, which had aggressively pursued its investigation of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, didn't believe Clemens. It referred his testimony to the Justice Department, which brought criminal charges against him.
In a statement, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who chaired the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform at the time of Clemens' testimony, said the case was referred to the Justice Department because of "significant doubts about the truthfulness of his testimony in 2008."
"The decision whether Mr. Clemens committed perjury is a decision the jury had to make, and I respect its decision," he added.
Prosecution's Star Witness Contradicted
The case initially went to trial more than a year ago, but because the prosecution mistakenly let the jury see evidence that had been ruled inadmissible, the judge declared a mistrial.
The government brought the case a second time this spring. The lynchpin of the prosecution's case was the testimony of Clemens' one-time strength coach, Brian McNamee. He told the court that he repeatedly injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone. But McNamee's testimony was contradicted by a variety of witnesses, including his estranged wife. And the former head of security for the New York Yankees told the jury the one-time Yankee trainer should not be believed, that his credibility was "zero."
The government sought to buttress McNamee's testimony with physical evidence — needles, cotton balls and vials -— that McNamee turned over to prosecutors.
But even the government's expert witnesses conceded the evidence proved little, since McNamee, by his own account, kept open bottles, cotton and syringes — used on many players — in one beer can, meaning the samples were all intermingled and contaminated.
The jury delivered its verdict after deliberating about 10 hours –- a relatively short time given the length of the trial. Indeed, Clemens' lawyers had told him not to expect a verdict on Monday, and he was working out several miles from the courthouse when word came that the jury had a verdict.
The Clemens verdict was the second time in two weeks that the government has lost a high-profile prosecution. Earlier this month, a jury in North Carolina acquitted John Edwards, the former U.S. senator and Democratic vice presidential candidate, of criminal charges alleging that he violated campaign laws to conceal an extramarital affair.
In both that case and the Clemens case, there were widespread reservations about bringing charges. The Edwards case was initially brought by a Bush administration prosecutor who is now running for Congress. In the Clemens case, the impetus was the referral from Congress. And in neither case was the Obama Justice Department willing to say no. Now, in both cases, the prosecutions have been soundly repudiated.
An earlier investigation into another baseball star, Barry Bonds, yielded a guilty verdict in 2011 on just one count: obstruction of justice. The jury deadlocked on the other charges, whether the home run king lied to a grand jury when he denied knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs. He was sentenced to 30 days of house arrest, a decision he is appealing.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Baseball great Roger Clemens is not guilty. Clemens was acquitted today on all six counts against him. He had been charged with lying to Congress when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg was in the courtroom this afternoon and she joins us now. Nina, not guilty on all six counts. Was that a surprise?
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Not to me. I've covered a lot of trials. And usually when I'm at that moment where we're getting the verdict, my heart is pounding, I'm really - I'm not sure at all, and this time I couldn't believe - I would've been shocked if the jury would've convicted him. This was a pretty paltry case in terms of evidence.
SIEGEL: Well, describe the scene in the courtroom when the verdict was announced.
TOTENBERG: Well, Clemens himself seemed relatively unemotional, but his whole family was there. His four sons were holding hands together tightly. And when we got through all six not guilty charges and not guilty verdicts, they started to weep. And then afterwards, the lawyer, Rusty Hardin, and Clemens got - this huge bear hug. Then the whole family in their row stood up and were like in a little football huddle, holding on to each other. You know, a nice scene at the end of a trial. We don't usually have nice scenes. We have very dramatic scenes. This was dramatic in the not usual way.
SIEGEL: Then Clemens went outside of the courtroom and I gather he talked about...
TOTENBERG: Yeah, he came out quite quickly outside and he was very calm initially, thanking his family, his friends and everything, and then he said and you guys in the media who've covered my career, and suddenly he choked up and he fought back tears for about 30 seconds, and finally said this:
ROGER CLEMENS: (Unintelligible) lot of hard work into that career, and so, again, I appreciate my teammates that came in and all the emails and phone calls, from my teammates, so, thank you all very much.
SIEGEL: Roger Clemens speaking after his acquittal today in Washington. Nina, all this began following a House committee hearing into the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Major League baseball players. Remind us how Clemens got involved in all of this.
TOTENBERG: Well, Clemens was the most visible person by far in a way - the seven-time Cy Young award winner - and he said I never used these drugs, not steroids, not human growth hormone. The committee didn't believe him and it referred his case to the Justice Department, which decided to prosecute him for perjury and obstructing a congressional investigation.
SIEGEL: It's hard not to notice that the acquittal of Roger Clemens comes not too long after the acquittal of John Edwards. Two prosecutions that had been questioned, why, in the one case, prosecution that involved violation of campaign finance laws, which have since been so altered by the Supreme Court. In this case, was it really worth a federal case over whether a great pitcher used performance-enhancing drugs or not.
TOTENBERG: Well first the Justice Department. The Edwards case was brought initially by a Bush holdover and who is very politically ambitious, is running for Congress. There are a lot of folks who think the Justice Department simply didn't want to overrule him. This case was sent to the Justice Department by the Congress, by the congressional committee. And again, they would - the Justice Department would have said - had to say sorry guys. Now, there are those who will say the Justice Department got its rewards today. Its rewards are a goose egg. And that's because it didn't stand up to, perhaps, people who should've been stood up to.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Nina.
TOTENBERG: Thank you.
SIEGEL: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg on the verdict in the trial of baseball pitcher Roger Clemens. He was found not guilty on all counts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.