Friday, July 15, 2011

Prosecutors Throw Game

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors allegedly introduced inadmissible evidence in the perjury case of Roger Clemens with the intention of causing the mistrial that resulted.  Legal experts, or perhaps it was satirists, speaking on the condition of anonymity, made comparisons to the 1919 Chicago White Sox, eight members of which conspired to lose the World Series.

Assistant United States attorneys Steven Durham and Daniel Butler presented to the jury a videotape of Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) reading an affidavit of Laura Pettitte, wife of pitcher Andy Pettitte.  In the deposition, Mrs. Pettitte states her husband had a conversation with Clemens in which "Roger admitted to him using human growth hormones."

United States District Court Judge Reggie Walton had the previous week barred prosecutors from showing the video.  In declaring the mistrial, Walton said, "I think that a first-year law student would know you cannot bolster the credibility of one witness," Mr. Pettitte, "with clearly inadmissible evidence."

"I think Mr. Pettitte's testimony is going to be critical as to whether this man goes to prison," Walton said, expressing a widely held opinion.

It was the blatancy of the procedural error that led conspiracy theorists to conclude Durham and Butler  intentionally blew the case.  Court observers first became suspicious of the prosecution when their opening remarks mentioned that Pettitte and other former teammates of Clemens had used human growth hormone.  Walton had instructed Durham and Butler that he was unlikely to allow them to imply Clemens' guilt by association.

Similarly, or perhaps completely differently, it was the sudden and heavy betting on the Cincinnati Reds to win that first made sportswriters and others suspect the 1919 World Series was fixed.

It is unclear what motivation Durham and Butler might have had for sabotaging the case, which has taken three years so far.  The eight members of the Chicago baseball team, who came to be known as the Black Sox, were motivated by a strong dislike for team owner Charles Comiskey, who had a reputation for underpaying his players.

Clemens, a record seven-time Cy Young Award winner, is an instinctive if indiscriminate competitor.  Implicated in a 2007 report about drug use prepared by former United States senator George J. Mitchell for Major League Baseball, Clemens was not able to let the non-binding accusations pass.  He instead refuted the allegations and sued his principal accuser, Brian McNamee, who had worked as a trainer for the pitcher.

During a February 13, 2008 hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Clemens became combative with Representative Henry Waxman (D-California), the committee chairman.  New York Times columnist George Vecsey called this "something no adult with normal social instincts would ever want to try."  The charges of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of Congress against Clemens stem from statements he made at the hearing.  The videotape of Representative Cummings shown by Durham and Butler is also from then.

As a player Clemens was known for throwing at batters, including head-high.  Then a Yankee, Clemens hit Mike Piazza in the head during an interleague series in 2000, causing the Mets catcher to suffer a concussion and miss the all-star game.  The players faced each other again in Game 2 of the World Series that year.  When Piazza broke his bat on a first-inning hit, Clemens picked up the barrel and threw it at Piazza as he was running to first base.

Clemens' explanation for his behavior was nonsensical and not believable, a statement that can be applied to much of what he has said during and since his career.  I had looked forward to the possibility of him being convicted in a court of law and sentenced to prison.  That he may not be due to prosecutorial over-zealousness led me to demonize Durham and Butler above.  "First-year law student," Judge Walton said; it makes me mad.

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