WASHINGTON — The attorney for Roger Clemens gave his strongest hint yet that the former baseball star may not testify in his trial on charges of lying to Congress about using performance-enhancing drugs as he pressed potential jurors not to hold Clemens’ silence against him.
Several members of the jury pool under selection in Washington federal court said they would weigh evidence from both sides before deciding on a verdict. The judge and Clemens’ attorney had to repeatedly explain the legal principle of innocent until proven guilty and that prosecutors alone bear the burden of proving his guilt.
It’s a common issue in criminal cases, but the comments from Clemens’ attorney Rusty Hardin show the defense team is at least considering not putting the ex-baseball pitcher on the stand.
“Maybe you won’t get both sides,” Hardin told a government consultant who indicated she wanted to hear Clemens prove his innocence. She eventually said she understood she must start off by assuming he’s innocent until the government persuades her otherwise.
“Would you require him to testify to find him not guilty?” Hardin asked another panelist.
“I would like to hear from both sides,” she responded.
“That’s the point. Most people would,” Hardin said, and then explained she can’t hold it against him.
“You mean you aren’t going to say anything at all?” she asked.
“We may, we may not,” he said. Under coaching from Hardin, she eventually said she would find him not guilty if she had a reasonable doubt even without hearing from him.
Clemens watched without speaking Monday as many of the members of the jury pool in this football town said they knew little or nothing about him. One man just retired as a chef for the hometown Redskins, even though he said his football allegiance came from his hometown of Philadelphia.
“I’m a die-hard Eagles fan, but Dan Snyder was there with money,” the man said of the Redskins owner to laughter in the courtroom. He also played football at Syracuse and said he remembered the late football star Lyle Alzado speaking out against steroid use in the days he played, but now he doesn’t feel you can tell who is using. He was qualified along with 28 others by the afternoon.
Another woman who made it through to the next phase was also an Eagles fan, although she’s a lifelong resident of Washington. She said she liked the team because of quarterback Michael Vick, who was convicted for his involvement in dogfighting. “I thought he was done wrong,” she said.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton was eager to qualify as many jurors as possible to get to opening arguments. He rejected a defense argument to dismiss one potential juror who spent 20 years as Defense Department investigator and acknowledged he would be inclined toward the prosecution. But he said he could be fair.
Another potential juror, a lawyer for the Federal Communications Commission, assured the courtroom she does not watch sports on television by saying she doesn’t even know how to turn on the TV at home. She said her husband told her it looked like she was being called for the Clemens jury and she got him confused with all-star Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente, who she apparently didn’t realize died in 1972.
But there was one baseball fan in the group who was very familiar with Clemens and said he’d been following him since he led the University of Texas Longhorns to victory in the College World Series in 1983. “He was a heck of a ballplayer,” said the man, a former IRS database programmer. But he said he has no opinion on his guilt or innocence.
Thirty-six people need to be qualified before government and defense lawyers use their preemptory challenges to narrow the panel to 12 jurors and four alternates. Thirteen were turned away for reasons including medical issues, an inability to commit to a trial expected to last into August and biases against either Clemens or Congress for even investigating drugs in baseball.
Clemens is charged with six felonies for telling Congress under oath that he never used performance-enhancing drugs. He stands by the denial, but prosecutors say they can prove that is a lie.