The highly anticipated perjury trial of baseball star Barry Bonds has been postponed — possibly for months. A flurry of court proceedings on Friday led the presiding judge in the case to announce that jury selection scheduled to start Monday would not take place.
The day began with Bonds' former personal trainer, Greg Anderson, telling U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston that he would not testify about Bonds at the trial. Anderson has served time in prison for contempt of court after taking a similar stance in past proceedings.
Earlier this month, Illston ruled that some key prosecution evidence would be inadmissible at trial if Anderson weren't there to testify about it. The evidence included positive drugs tests allegedly by Bonds and so-called "doping calendars" belonging to Anderson that allegedly laid out a schedule for Bonds' drug use.
When Anderson announced Friday he wouldn't testify, this prompted prosecutors to make their own announcement — they would appeal Illston's rulings on the evidence to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. This, then, prompted Illston to postpone Monday's jury selection. If she decides to issue a stay of the proceedings, the trial could be delayed for months.
When the trial finally does begin, it'll represent the culmination of a years-long, multi-million dollar sports doping investigation by the federal government.
For federal investigators, Bonds is the big fish. He holds the most hallowed record in America's most cherished sport, Bonds is the most famous athlete ensnared in the doping scandal known by the place it originated: the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative or BALCO.
Bonds is charged with 10 counts of making false declarations before a grand jury and one count of obstruction of justice. The charges stem from his 2003 testimony to a grand jury investigating banned performance-enhancing drug use in sports. Bonds said under oath he never knowingly used banned drugs. This is why the evidence Illston threw out is so important to prosecutors.
Proving perjury is very difficult. According to NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg, prosecutors have to prove a person committed a "literal and knowing lie." Bonds told the grand jury he never knowingly used steroids — that's his story and he's sticking to it. So, according to Totenberg, one of the ways prosecutors get around that is to prove a substantive charge — in this case, prove Bonds bought steroids or prove he tested positive for steroids.
If the appeal fails to get that evidence back in the trial, ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson says, it'll be a "devastating setback" for prosecutors. The government's case will be significantly weaker -– prosecutors will have to rely on witness testimony about Bonds and an audio recording in which Anderson allegedly talks about giving Bonds an undetectable steroid.
The trial's postponement tempers — for the time being — some strong and polarizing comments about Bonds and the court proceedings. Some journalists have blasted the federal government for its zealous pursuit of Bonds.
One of them, Dave Zirin, writes: "Whether or not you are a Barry Bonds fan, or consider him to be just a step above a seal-clubbing, pit bull-fighting bank executive, every person of good conscience should be aghast at the way the Justice Department has gone about its business. Barry Bonds, Greg Anderson and maybe thousands of others have had their rights trampled on, all for the glory of a perjury case that looks to be going absolutely nowhere."
But there are others — baseball fans and former baseball fans — who believe Bonds indeed is guilty of cheating. For them the evidence is clear: The increased hat size, the rippling physique on a once lean frame.
To the skeptics, Bonds' crowning achievement, the all-time home run record, is a fraud. And regardless of the trial's outcome, the number 762 will forever have an asterisk next to it.