Barry Bonds, one of the most powerful but most hated players in the history of baseball, has been indicted by a federal grand jury for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to prosecutors probing steroid use in the Major Leagues.
Bonds is charged with lying when he told prosecutors he never knowingly took anabolic steroids given to him by trainer and longtime friend Greg Anderson.
Anderson, who served three months in prison after pleading guilty to steroids distribution, remained in jail for refusing to testify before the grand jury. But shortly after the indictment was announced, prosecutors ordered Anderson freed from prison.
"During the criminal investigation, evidence was obtained that included positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances for Bonds and other athletes," the indictment said.
Speculation has spread through the sports world for months that an indictment may be imminent. Still, Bonds' attorneys appeared to be caught off guard by the news.
Attorney Is Surprised
"I am surprised," Bonds attorney, John Burris, told ABC News's Law & Justice Unit. "Unless there's evidence that I am not aware of, I never thought there was enough evidence to get a conviction. Maybe there's new evidence."
"I have cautioned him that these [indictments] can happen any day,'' Burris said. "When someone is doing an investigation, you have to be careful. You never know."
Burris said he was trying to contact his client. Bonds is charged with four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice, according to the indictment.
While he could technically face up to 30 years in prison if convicted, he would be more likely to serve "months to years, not decades,'' sentencing expert Doug Berman told ABC News, saying that the guidelines can create a "lot of uncertainty."
Bonds, who broke Hank Aaron's career home-run record last summer to considerable skepticism in the stands, also holds the season home-run record with 73. He ended last season with the San Francisco Giants, but his contract was not renewed, and he has not signed with a new team. The indictment was unsealed in federal court in San Francisco.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan (Bud) Selig released a statement saying that he takes the Bonds' situation "very seriously'' and insisted the sport has learned its lesson when it comes to doping.
"We currently have a testing program that is as good as any in professional sports, and the program is working. We continue to fund research to find an efficacious test for HGH [human growth hormone] and have banned amphetamines from our sport. We will continue to work diligently to eradicate the use of all illegal performance-enhancing substances from the game."
President Bush, a former owner of the Texas Rangers, was "disappointed'' to learn of the indictment, a spokesman said.
"Clearly, this is a sad day for baseball,'' White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, minutes after news of the indictment went public.
The scandal erupted in 2002 after government investigators raided Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, known forever after simply and notoriously as Balco.
'Cream' and 'Clear'Bonds testified in 2003 that he took two substances that Anderson gave him, which he referred to as the "cream'' and the "clear,'' according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which obtained transcripts of Bonds' testimony. Bonds said he believed the substances were flaxseed oil and balm. A Balco defense attorney later pleaded guilty to leaking confidential grand jury testimony to the newspaper.
Anderson served three months in jail and three more on house arrest after pleading guilty to steroids distribution. Balco founder Victor Conte, the company's vice president, a coach and a chemist have all pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the steroid probe.
The steroid scandal has deeply disillusioned baseball fans, and spilled over into other sports, where accusations of illegal doping have brought down football players, cyclists, and legendary track and field stars, including Ben Johnson and Marion Jones.
Bonds, whose steadily growing bulk over the years has served to repudiate his denials of steroid use to many fans, became an object of scorn when he broke Aaron's hallowed all-time home run record.
An ABC News/ESPN poll in April found that 73 percent of baseball fans thought Bonds had knowingly taken steroids despite his denials. Nonetheless, in July 2006, most said that if charged criminally he should be allowed to keep playing pending the outcome of his trial (55 percent) rather than face suspension (43 percent), according to ABC News pollster Gary Langer.
In May 2002, Bonds seemed dismissive of the steroids probe.
"Doctors ought to quit worrying about what ballplayers are taking,'' he told Sports Illustrated. "What players take doesn't matter. It's nobody else's business. The doctors should spend their time looking for cures for cancer. It takes more than muscles to hit homers. If all those guys were using stuff, how come they're not all hitting homers?"
Even fans who said they've always been suspicious of Bonds' doping denials seemed saddened by the latest turn of events.
"I've actually invested a lot, in bar arguments, in …well, not his innocence, really, but in making baseball spread some of this scarlet letter around,'' said Patrick J. O'Connor, a ferocious Manhattan baseball fan. "Everybody was rolling him under the bus, and I was ready to defend him. I always thought, 'Yeah, he tinkered with [steroids], but baseball..has to accept some responsibility. They wanted to put fannies in the seats and the owners were profiting.
"C'mon. He hit 73 home runs in one season! Baseball,'' O'Connor said, "has become like the music industry. They need results right away. You can't wait for water to boil anymore." Baseball club owners "need balls over the fence."
"I blame baseball just as much as I blame Bonds."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.