WASHINGTON - The federal judge who will preside over Roger Clemens' perjury trial said Tuesday he probably will not permit the pitcher's former teammates on the New York Yankees to give testimony aimed at bolstering the credibility of Clemens' former trainer, now a major prosecution witness.
A day before the trial's start, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said at a hearing that statements from former Yankees Andy Pettite, Chuck Knoblauch and Mike Stanton that they received injections of performance-enhancing drugs from the trainer, Brian McNamee, could unfairly influence jurors.
Clemens is charged with perjury, false statements and obstruction of Congress for telling a House committee under oath that he never used steroids or human growth hormone during his 23-season career. The record-setting pitcher who once seemed a sure bet for baseball's Hall of Fame now could face prison if 12 jurors agree that he lied and unanimously agree to convict him.
Walton also said he is inclined to prevent Clemens' defense team from telling jurors about rape allegations against McNamee that did not result in charges. Rusty Hardin, Clemens' lead attorney, told Walton that the alleged rape is "inextricably bound to this entire case."
Clemens was in court for the pre-trial hearing but didn't speak. He stared ahead without taking notes like he did at previous proceedings and walked so quickly out of the courthouse, surrounded by media, that his attorney called for him to slow down.
Clemens' main defense has been to discredit his former friend McNamee. Walton said Tuesday that telling jurors about an alleged rape that did not result in charges would be "extremely prejudicial," although he did not make a final ruling on these issues.
He also warned of a possible delay in the trial concerning the inability to obtain the audio of Clemens' deposition to House investigators in 2008. Both sides want the audio to be played in court, but the House office in charge of transcribing testimony has refused to part with the audio. However, a transcript is available.
CBS Radio News Legal analyst Andrew Cohen says Walton is an excellent veteran trial judge who presided over the Lewis Libby trial a few years ago.
"So he's not going to put up with any nonsense from the attorneys, the witnesses or jurors," Cohen says.
The trial of the United States vs. William R. Clemens, expected to last 4-6 weeks, will bring a parade of celebrity athletes and plenty of sordid details to the staid Washington federal courthouse. It will feature testimony about illicit drugs, bloody evidence of injections, an abscess on Clemens' backside allegedly caused by steroid use and the allegations that his accuser is a serial liar and a rapist.
Clemens isn't the only all-star baseball player to be criminally charged with lying about drug use, and prosecutors have a mixed record. Infielder Miguel Tejada pleaded guilty in 2009 to a misdemeanor for withholding information about an ex-teammate's use of drugs when questioned in 2005 by congressional investigators. But in their first jury test, prosecutors were able to convict home run king Barry Bonds of just one count of obstruction of justice in April for giving an evasive answer to a grand jury when asked about drug use. The jury deadlocked on the three remaining counts that Bonds made a false statement by saying he never knowingly received steroids and human growth hormone from his trainer.
But unlike the Bonds trial, where the trainer who allegedly provided injections refused to testify against his former boss and friend, McNamee is the prosecution's leading witness.
Other players were allowed to testify about drugs they received from Bonds' trainer because of his absence from the trial. But Walton said Tuesday that Clemens' prosecutors would not face that problem, leading him to believe that other players' dealings with McNamee are not relevant to Clemens' case.
Even with some former teammates' testimony disallowed, Pettitte remains particularly important because he's the only witness besides McNamee who says he spoke with Clemens about his drug use.
For a decade, McNamee worked out intensively with Clemens and helped shape "The Rocket" into one of the most powerful pitchers in the major leagues, even into middle age. McNamee also says he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone, and even kept the used needles that will be key scientific evidence at trial.
But McNamee, a former New York City police officer, is not an ideal witness for the prosecution. He acted as a drug dealer to several major league players and acknowledges he hasn't always told the truth when asked about Clemens' drug use and other matters. McNamee initially denied giving Clemens drugs, he says out of loyalty to his best and longtime client, but eventually admitted to federal agents that he injected the seven-time Cy Young Award winner.
Clemens' attorneys described McNamee in a recent court filing as "the only person in the entire world who has ever alleged that he witnessed Mr. Clemens use performance enhancing drugs at any time in his storied career."
Clemens' lawyers accuse McNamee of being a "congenital liar" who made up the allegations against their client to save himself from drug charges. They also want to introduce evidence that in 2001 McNamee drugged and raped a woman, then lied to police who investigated the allegation but never charged McNamee with a crime.
The six felony counts against Clemens stem from the House Government Reform Committee's 2008 investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Former Sen. George Mitchell had recently published a 400-page report that named Clemens and 85 other former and current major league players as users. Clemens denied the allegations and the House committee responded by opening an investigation into the dispute surrounding the Mitchell Report.
Clemens appeared voluntarily before committee staff for a deposition under oath on Feb. 5, 2008, in which he flatly denied ever using anabolic steroids or human growth hormone.
Eight days later at a public hearing, he continued to insist he never used performance-enhancing drugs. The indictment accuses him of making 15 separate false statements during both the deposition and hearing testimony, including denials of drug use, insistence that Pettitte must have misheard him about using drugs and denials that he attended a party at admitted steroid user Jose Canseco's house.
The six charges Clemens is accused of carry a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine. But it would be unlikely even if he were convicted that Clemens would be sentenced to nearly that long since he doesn't have a criminal record.