Appeals Court Overturns Barry Bonds’ Obstruction Conviction

Barry Bonds leaves the San Francisco Federal Building in April 2011 after his conviction for obstructing a grand jury investigation. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Update, April 22, 2015: Barry Bonds’ obstruction of justice conviction was reversed Wednesday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled his meandering answer before a grand jury in 2003 was not material to the government’s investigation into steroids distribution.

Bonds was indicted in 2007 for his testimony four years earlier before the grand jury investigating the illegal distribution of performance-enhancing drugs by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative.

Following a trial that opened in March 2011, a jury deadlocked on three counts charging Bonds with making false statements when he denied receiving steroids and human growth hormone from trainer Greg Anderson and denied receiving injections from Anderson or his associates.

Bonds was convicted on one count for his response when he was asked whether Anderson ever gave him “anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with.”

“Today’s news is something that I have long hoped for,” Bonds said in a statement. “I am humbled and truly thankful for the outcome as well as the opportunity our judicial system affords to all individuals to seek justice.  … I am excited about what the future holds for me as I embark on the next chapter.”

Jessica Wolfram, one of the jurors who convicted Bonds following the three-week trial and four days of deliberations, said she couldn’t help but feel the decade-long prosecution was “all a waste, all for nothing.”

“Just a waste of money, having the whole trial and jury,” she said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

The government could ask the 11-judge panel to reconsider Wednesday’s decision or could request that all 29 judges on the 9th Circuit rehear the case. The full court has never sat on a case since it began using the “limited en banc” panels in 1980.

Prosecutors also could petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision.

Wendy Thurm, a sports journalist and attorney, told KQED she wasn’t surprised by the 9th Circuit’s action.   “A lot of observers, including myself, were surprised that the original appellate court did uphold a conviction.”

“I don’t know how much this is going to change public opinion, though. A lot of people think he’s a bad guy, a lot of people have drawn their own conclusions about what he did or didn’t do, whether he should be in the Hall of Fame. That debate will continue.”

Voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame is limited to members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and Thurm said she doesn’t think many of the writers who voted against Bonds in the past did so because of his conviction.  “It’s much more focused on their belief that he did take steroids, and that in their view, that disqualifies him.  So I don’t think this 9th Circuit decision opens the door for him to waltz into the Hall of Fame.

“I think what it does do is open up the door for him to have a more public relationship with the Giants organization going forward. He was a spring training instructor last year, he was even at the Giants game last night. That could be part of a goodwill effort to try to change people’s minds about the Hall of Fame. But also, the Giants are now in a position to  embrace Bonds for who he was. His home run record and his chase for the record kind of built AT&T Park, and filled that ballpark in the first five or six years that it was open, even as the team’s record itself had started to wane. ”

Read the opinion:

Original story, July 1, 2014
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has granted Barry Bonds’ request for a rehearing of a challenge to his conviction for obstruction of justice.

In a one-paragraph order issued Tuesday, the court said a special panel of 11 judges would look again at the 2011 guilty verdict. No date has been set for the rehearing.

Attorneys for Bonds have argued that the former Giants star and Major League Baseball’s all-time home-run record holder was wrongly convicted, based on a rambling but truthful statement made during federal grand jury testimony in 2003. The panel had been convened to investigate the use of performance-enhancing substances in professional sports, a practice that had become widespread in baseball in the late 1990s.

Bonds was one of several players who got special scrutiny because of a surge in their home-run numbers. Bonds set the single-season home-run record of 73 in 2001 and retired with the sport’s career record of 762.

Years after the 2003 grand jury appearance, prosecutors charged Bonds with four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction in connection with his testimony that he had never taken performance-enhancing drugs.

During deliberations, the jury in the case was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the perjury counts. But the panel did convict Bonds of obstruction, finding that he was evasive when asked about whether his personal trainer had given him injections.

In what’s now known as his “celebrity child” testimony, prosecutors asked Bonds whether his trainer, Greg Anderson, ever gave him “anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with?”

Bonds answered by saying:

I’ve only had one doctor touch me. And that’s my only personal doctor. Greg, like I said, we don’t get into each others’ personal lives. We’re friends, but I don’t we don’t sit around and talk baseball, because he knows I don’t want — don’t come to my house talking baseball. If you want to come to my house and talk about fishing, some other stuff, we’ll be good friends. You come around talking about baseball, you go on. I don’t talk about his business. You know what I mean?

Q. Right.

A. That’s what keeps our friendship. You know, I am sorry, but that — you know, that — I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation, you see. So, I don’t know — I don’t know — I’ve been married to a woman five years, known her 17 years, and I don’t even know what’s in her purse. I have never looked in it in my lifetime. You know, I just — I don’t do that, I just don’t do it, and you know, learned from my father and throughout his career, you don’t get in no one’s business, you can’t — there’s nothing they can say, you can’t say nothing about them. Just leave it alone. You want to keep your friendship, keep your friendship.

Bonds has already served his sentence in the case: 30 days of at-home detention and a $4,100 fine. Lance Williams, a reporter who has covered the case and co-written a book on it, says that for Bonds, the appeal is about trying to salvage his reputation as one of baseball’s greatest players.

“Barry wants to be recognized as the greatest home-run hitter in the history of the game,” Williams said Tuesday. “He’d like to go in the Hall of Fame, and I think he’s convinced that getting that felony conviction expunged would enhance his opportunities in that regard.”

Bonds retired from the Giants after the 2007 season, a year during which he hit 28 home runs and led the major leagues in on-base percentage. Despite evidence that he could still be a productive hitter, no team offered him a contract. Attorneys for Major League Baseball denied that teams had acted in concert in declining to sign Bonds.

Bonds became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2012. But based on the results of the first two years of voting by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, it appears unlikely that Bonds will win what the Hall calls “enshrinement” among the game’s immortals. Needing 75 percent of votes cast to get into the Hall, Bonds got 36.2 percent in his first year of eligibility, 34.7 percent in his second.

Appeals Court Overturns Barry Bonds’ Obstruction Conviction 22 April,2015Dan Brekke



Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

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