What happened in U.S. District Court Thursday was surreal. Unforeseeable. And yet, I saw it.
Roger Clemens faced six counts of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of Congress. He would have had to walk into the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse four days a week for up to six weeks to see his fate unfold. He faced 15 to 21 months in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Durham had meticulously combed through Clemens’ sworn statements and his testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Clemens said he never took steroids or human growth hormone.
All of the exciting testimony, including that of trainer Brian McNamee and former pitcher Andy Pettitte, was likely a week or two away. First, the prosecution had to build the foundation of its case.
But before the government got to first base, it was tagged out.
One video clip admitted as evidence, government exhibit 3B2, showed Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., building up Pettitte as an honest man and reading a sworn affidavit by his wife, Laura. Bolstering a witness’ credibility by a non-testifying third party is a big no-no, and Walton had ruled Laura Pettitte’s testimony off limits because it was hearsay – double hearsay, actually.
Worse, while the judge and lawyers were talking privately to try to clean up the mess, a government legal assistant left the freeze frame of Cummings and seven lines of subtitles on the screen. The jury studied the prohibited words for several minutes before leaving the nearly empty courtroom.
When it was clear something unexpected was happening, reporters who had been watching on closed circuit from the press room and others filled the courtroom.
Walton returned to the courtroom, and defense lawyer Rusty Hardin moved for a mistrial. Walton reluctantly ruled that a mistrial was the only solution.
The judge called in the jurors, who probably wondered what warranted an hour-long break. As Walton explained what happened, several jurors exhaled, and another mouthed “wow.” Some appeared to have mixed emotions. They had spent six days in the courthouse and never heard the exciting evidence. But they also avoided five more weeks of jury duty.
Emotions ranged throughout the packed room. Walton was disgruntled. The government lawyers were downtrodden. Clemens’ camp remained professional but energized when Walton mentioned the possibility that double jeopardy would bar a retrial.
As a journalist and baseball fan, I had mixed reactions. I wanted to cover the trial from beginning to end, and I expected to have a six-week experience. I also wanted more time to network with other journalists covering the proceedings.
On the other hand, I am glad I was in the courtroom Thursday and that I had the chance to cover this stunning series of events. Clemens might never be tried if Walton rules that prosecution is barred by double jeopardy, meaning I would have, in fact, covered the entire trial.
From a baseball perspective, the lack of resolution about the case is troubling. Clemens might never be declared guilty or not guilty, meaning people will always question the truth of his statements. Had he been acquitted, his chances of clearing his name would increase. Had he been convicted, he rightly would have faced jail time for a proven crime. A mistrial answers few, if any, questions about his use of steroids and the accuracy of the allegations that he used steroids.
I am grateful for the chance to have taken part in these proceedings. It was a rewarding experience despite the short time it lasted. I must use the lessons I learned from this case in future assignments.