Prosecution: Roger Clemens Lied About Steroid Use

The seven-time Cy Young Award winner faces charges of perjury and obstruction of Congress — which carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. The prosecution says it has physical evidence against the baseball pitching star, but Clemens' attorney contends the evidence is fake.

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The trial of former pitching star Roger Clemens opened yesterday, here in Washington. The prosecution told the jury that Clemens used steroids and human growth hormone, or HGH, to extend his career and then lied about it to Congress.

Prosecutor Steven Durham told the jury of 10 women and two men that the government would produce physical evidence to prove its case. The lawyer for Clemens says that evidence was faked by Clemens' one time trainer. Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG: Clemens is not charged with using banned substances. Rather, it's his denial of steroid and HGH use in testimony before a House committee that could cost him his freedom.

He's charged with six different counts of perjury, false statements and obstructing a congressional investigation into the use of banned substances in baseball.

Here he is testifying in 2008.

Mr. ROGER CLEMENS (Former Major League Baseball player): How do you prove a negative? No matter what we discuss here today, I'm never going to have my name restored. Let me be clear: I have never taken steroids or HGH.

TOTENBERG: That testimony was false and he knew it, prosecutor Steven Durham told the jury yesterday in his opening statement. Durham charged that Clemens, rather than admit his drug use as others have done, made false statements under oath in order to preserve his reputation and his chance at being named to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The truth, said the prosecutor, is that Clemens was repeatedly injected with steroids and HGH by his trainer, Brian McNamee, who's expected to be the star witness for the prosecution.

The prosecutor conceded that the jury would hear many bad things about McNamee, but Durham said the government would produce corroborating evidence for everything the trainer says.

Most damning is the physical evidence, he suggested - cotton balls and needles McNamee produced to prove he injected Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs. The government had the material tested by two independent laboratories and found Clemens' DNA, plus traces of steroids and HGH. Not found, the prosecutor said, was any evidence of lidocaine or vitamin B12 - legal substances that Clemens said he was injected with.

In response, Clemens' lawyer Rusty Hardin suggested that McNamee had manufactured the evidence to avoid being prosecuted himself. Federal agents told McNamee they didn't believe his denials of involvement. They told him they believe Clemens was using banned drugs and they offered the trainer a deal if he would implicate Clemens.

All roads to Brian McNamee, said the defense lawyer, and to put it delicately, McNamee is a liar. He totally made this stuff up. Roger Clemens' only crime was having the poor judgment to stay connected to Brian McNamee, he said.

Hardin disputed the prosecution's characterization of Clemens' testimony as voluntary. Clemens' lawyers were told that if he didn't agree to testify, he would be subpoenaed. And that would leave him with only two choices - take the fifth and look guilty to the world or testify. So he agreed to appear and answer question.

Roger Clemens, unless he was comatose, knew the dangers he faced in denying that he used banned substances. Hardin told the jury there was a rush to judgment on Roger that made it impossible for him to be fairly heard until he got here.

The defense lawyer also contended the prosecution's theory of the case makes little sense, since Clemens continued to pitch brilliantly after the prosecution says he stopped using performance-enhancing drugs. Indeed, noted Hardin, it was in this period, when Clemens was in his 40s, that he won his record-setting seventh Cy Young Award.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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