Amid the colour and chaos of an all-American media circus, a court in San Francisco yesterday began jury selection in the trial of Barry Lamar Bonds, the most celebrated baseball player of his generation, who is accused of lying to a federal grand jury when he famously denied ever having knowingly taken performance-enhancing drugs.
The long-awaited legal showdown comes almost four seasons after Bonds captured the all-time career home runs record, perhaps the most glamorous yardstick of success in US sport, and almost a decade after the first whiff of a scandal which means that his achievements will forever be tainted by association with a period now known as baseball's "steroid era".
Bonds is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to a grand jury investigating a major doping ring centred at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative in Burlingame, California, in 2003. At the time, the star slugger was with the San Francisco Giants, the team for whom he notched up a Major League record of 73 home runs during the 2001 season.
Detectives who raided Balco found reams of documents and other evidence suggesting Bonds had been a client of the lab, which has helped a slew of other disgraced athletes including Dwayne Chambers and Marion Jones since the late 1990s. Bonds nonetheless testified, under oath, that he'd never knowingly taken steroids, never accepted human growth hormone from a personal trainer, and never allowed anyone other than medical personnel to give him injections.
The current perjury charges relate to that evidence and were originally filed in 2007, shortly before the now 46-year-old outfielder was let go by the Giants following a 21-year career in which he earned almost $200m (£123m). The start of the trial, in which he faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, has since been delayed by arguments over exactly what evidence can be presented to the 12 men and women of the jury.
Prosecutors have succeeded in persuading Judge Susan Ilston to permit them to call no less than 52 witnesses in the coming weeks. To the delight of the assembled media, they will include Kimberly Bell, a headline-prone former girlfriend who will testify that during their years together Bonds exhibited classic symptoms of steroid abuse: acne, hair loss, temper tantrums, and shrunken testicles.
Other witnesses are likely to include Steve Hoskins, his former business manager, who says he knew of the alleged steroid abuse, and his sister Kathy Hoskins, a PA who claims to have seen him being injected with human growth hormone. Bobby Estalella, a former catcher for the Giants, is expected to say that he brought steroids from Greg Anderson, Mr Bonds's trainer, and often discussed using them with the star.
At least six other former players will testify that Anderson provided them with steroids. In addition, Don Catlin, the former head of the US Olympic drug-testing laboratory, will tell the court that a urine sample collected from Bonds in 2003 contained "the clear", a once-undetectable steroid that was provided to clients of Balco.
Bonds maintains that all the evidence against him is circumstantial, and that he's the victim of a media "witch hunt". His team of seven star lawyers have already succeeded in persuading Judge Ilston that the jury should not be allowed to see any evidence from prosecutors' investigations of Anderson, who is likely to be jailed for contempt of court after refusing to testify against his old client.
Further helping his cause is the fact that the case is being heard in San Francisco, the one part of the US where Bonds is still regarded with some affection. With the 2011 baseball season about to commence, support for the Giants among locals is buoyant following their spectacular success in last year's World Series.Reuse content