SAN FRANCISCO - Home-run king Barry Bonds was convicted Wednesday of obstruction of justice for impeding a grand jury investigation into illegal steroid distribution, closing a sordid chapter in a scandal that ensnared some of baseball's greatest players.
The verdict against the former San Francisco Giants star capped a nearly seven-year probe that focused on Bonds’ denials under oath about knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.
Bonds, 46, sat grim-faced showing no emotion when the verdict was read in the federal courtroom. The eight women and four men in the jury, who began deliberating Friday morning, also deadlocked on three counts of perjury.
The trial culminates an era that saw the reputations of some of the nation’s top athletes tarnished by disclosures of steroid and other drug use and that forced professional sports to grapple with calls for reform.
Jurors said they concluded that Bonds had been evasive before the grand jury, but they disagreed on whether he had knowingly lied to the panel about using steroids or human growth hormones.
A juror who would give only her first name, Amber, told the Associated Press the final votes on the deadlocked charges were 8-4 to acquit Bonds of lying about steroids and 9-3 to acquit him on lying about HGH use. The panel voted 11-1 to convict him of getting an injection from someone other than his doctor, with one woman holding out, the juror said.
Some jurors questioned the government’s case against the athlete.
“I think the government feeling was they had a really big fish with Bonds and they wanted to finish what they started,” said jury foreman Fred Jacob, 56. “Maybe they tried a little too hard to make him guilty.”
Defense lawyers said they would ask to have the obstruction of justice conviction set aside. They questioned how a jury could have found that Bonds tried to impede an investigation without finding that he lied.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston set a hearing May 20 to address that question and sentencing.
The probe into Bonds began with an investigation into a San Francisco Bay Area laboratory that was selling illegal steroids to professional athletes and expanded to include athletes suspected of lying to investigators. Bonds, holder of baseball’s hallowed record for most home runs, was the probe’s highest profile quarry.
Bonds’ career record stands at 762 home runs, surpassing Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth.
“In terms of his legacy, it’s officially tainted,” said Robert Talbot, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law who has followed the trial. “It essentially says that he knew he was cheating.”
While federal sentencing guidelines for the conviction recommend 15 to 21 months in prison, many legal analysts expect Bonds to be sentenced to home confinement.
Bonds was one of 30 athletes summoned to the grand jury investigating steroid dealing. Although given immunity for illegal drug use, Bonds insisted that his trainer told him the two steroids he was taking were flaxseed oil and arthritis cream.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Bonds tested positive for a steroid and a fertility drug in a urine sample taken several months before his grand jury testimony.
Prosecutors said Bonds lied over and over again to protect his reputation. Defense attorneys accused the government of waging a vendetta against Bonds and of using lying witnesses to try to convict him.
Prior to Bonds’ trial, four other athletes were convicted of making false statements in the investigation. Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, accused of lying to Congress about steroids, faces trial in July.