SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court on Friday upheld former Giants slugger Barry Bonds’ obstruction-of-justice conviction stemming from rambling testimony he gave during a 2003 appearance before a grand jury investigating elite athletes’ use of performance-enhancing drugs.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Bonds’ testimony was “evasive” and capable of misleading investigators and hindering their probe into a performance-enhancing-drug ring centered at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, better known as BALCO.
Like several other prominent athletes who testified before the grand jury, Bonds was granted immunity from criminal prosecution as long as he testified truthfully.
But after Bonds repeatedly denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs — he testified he thought he was taking flax seed oil and other legal supplements — prosecutors charged him with obstruction and with making false statements.
A jury convicted Bonds of a single felony count of obstruction, stemming from when he was called before the grand jury in San Francisco in December 2003. Bonds was asked whether his trainer, Greg Anderson, had ever injected him with a substance, and he replied by discussing the difficulties of being the son of a famous father. Bonds’ father is former major leaguer Bobby Bonds.
The jury deadlocked on three other counts that Bonds made false statements stemming from his denial that he knowingly used drugs, and those charges were later dismissed.
Bonds’ appellate attorney, Dennis Riordan, declined to comment.
Bonds could ask the same three-judge panel to reconsider its decision, ask a special 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit to take on the case, or petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his appeal.
If Bonds’ conviction stands, he will have to serve the 30 days of house arrest and two years of probation he was sentenced to after his 2011 trial. Prosecutors had sought a 15-month prison sentence.
The three-judge appeals court panel Friday rejected Bonds’ argument that his rambling testimony didn’t amount to felony obstruction. Riordan argued that Bonds’ answer was, in fact, true: He felt the pressure of being a child of a celebrity.
But Judge Mary Schroeder said that didn’t matter. She said it was obvious Bonds meant to mislead — and obstruct — the grand jury’s investigation into his use of performance-enhancing drugs, often called PEDs.
“The statement served to divert the grand jury’s attention away from the relevant inquiry of the investigation, which was Anderson and BALCO’s distribution of steroids and PEDs,” Schroeder wrote. “The statement was therefore evasive.”
Schroeder and her two colleagues also rejected arguments that the trial judge had issued improper jury instructions.
“We conclude there was sufficient evidence to convict Bonds of obstructing justice,” Schroeder said.
San Francisco U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said, “We are gratified by the court’s decision and believe justice is served.”