When Barry Bonds walks into the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco on Friday, it will be only the beginning of an unpredictable legal odyssey. A few days after the fourth anniversary of his BALCO grand jury testimony, Bonds will surrender to U.S. marshals, go through the bureaucratic rigmarole of being arrested and later appear in court to enter a plea on four counts of perjury and one of obstructing justice.
Outside the courtroom and all over the United States, however, debate and speculation about his fate will rage as it has since he was pulled into the biggest steroid scandal in sports history. There are those who decry the government "witch hunt" and those who say Bonds is getting what he deserves, but there remain many unknowns about the facts of the case. Those will emerge in the coming weeks and months, but as the United States versus Barry Lamar Bonds begins, here are answers to some of the questions that have been batted about during the past few weeks. What is important to remember is that, like Bonds himself, we don't know what we don't know about the government's case.
Barry Bonds wasn't the only athlete to use steroids, so why are the feds going after only him?
The short answer is: They aren't. There are two false premises to that question: First, they aren't going after him for using steroids, they are going after him for allegedly lying about it before a federal grand jury. Bonds was charged with four counts of perjury and one of obstructing justice, not drug use. As with Martha Stewart and other high-profile defendants, the government seems determined to make an example of Bonds.
When Bonds testified before the BALCO grand jury in December 2003, he was given immunity from prosecution, meaning he could have spilled his guts about steroid use the way Jason Giambi did and not faced any punishment. The feds wanted Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative founder Victor Conte and Bonds' longtime friend and trainer Greg Anderson, not Bonds.
But Bonds testified he never knowingly took steroids or injected them. He said he thought "the cream" and "the clear" were benign substances, not two steroids designed to avoid detection. The government believed he was lying and soon began collecting evidence to prove its case.
Second, Bonds isn't their only target. Fallen track legend Marion Jones pleaded guilty in October to lying to federal investigators after she was targeted for prosecution. Her former coach Trevor Graham, the original BALCO whistle-blower, is awaiting trial on charges of obstructing a federal investigation, and former cyclist Tammy Thomas is awaiting trial on perjury charges.
Why did it take so long for the government to charge Bonds?
There has been considerable discussion about this, but really, the answer appears far less sinister than some would like to believe. Some have suggested the government must have found last-minute witnesses who convinced the U.S. attorney to seek charges or that the case involving former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski has played a role. But in interviews with sources familiar with the government's case, those don't appear to be issues at all.
First and foremost, the feds work slowly. The only clock was the statute of limitations, which is five years in a federal perjury case. The government had until December 2008 to bring charges.