WASHINGTON >> On opening day at Roger Clemens’ new trial, several prospective jurors openly questioned the value of a congressional hearing in which he is alleged to have lied, which could pose problems for prosecutors trying to convict the famed baseball pitcher of perjury.
After being questioned by the judge and lawyers in the case, two of those jurors nevertheless made the first cut. Like all seven who cleared the initial questioning Monday, they were asked to return Wednesday, still part of quest to find 12 impartial jurors and four alternates.
The selection process resumed Tuesday morning. Wearing a dark suit and red tie, Clemens, once an overpowering right-handed pitcher, was back at the defense table jotting notes with his right hand and occasionally flipping through pages with his left.
The seven-time Cy Young Award winner returned to court Monday for the government’s second attempt to prove that he misled a House committee at a landmark drugs-and-sports hearing in 2008. The first trial last July ended in a mistrial when prosecutors introduced inadmissible evidence after only two witnesses had been called.
During Monday’s session, one potential juror said he felt "it was a little bit ridiculous" when Congress held hearings on drug use in sports because he felt the government should have been focusing on bigger problems. Asked whether he thought it was wasteful for Congress to hold the steroid hearings, he responded, "Yes."
Nevertheless, the native of Chile — an investment officer for an international bank — was asked to return, the only male to remain in the jury pool among those who were individually screened on the first day. He said he could keep the issue of whether Clemens lied separate from whether Congress should have had the hearings in the first place, saying, "This is a completely different process."
Another potential juror recalled the 2008 hearing by saying, "At the time, I remember thinking it didn’t seem to be a great use of taxpayer money." But she, too, was kept in the pool after she said she could be impartial.
"Even if I don’t agree with the reason that you’re brought before Congress, you still have to tell the truth. … If you perjure yourself before Congress, it’s still illegal," said the woman, who is an executive for an environmental nonprofit organization. The woman said her father played minor league baseball.
But another potential juror was excused after she volunteered, "I don’t know if that’s the best use of government tax dollars at this time." She said her feelings could influence her ability to serve.
Another was excused when she said Congress spent "too much time" on the investigation.
Clemens lawyer Rusty Hardin even hinted that the defense might challenge Congress’ authority to call the hearing in the first place, but U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton was skeptical of that line of questioning. The judge reminded lawyers again that some of the jurors from the first trial felt a retrial would be a waste of taxpayer money. He said that one of the hurdles in the case is that some people think "we have some significant problems in this country that are not being addressed by this Congress."
By the end of the day, only 13 potential jurors had been screened and just seven had been asked to return Wednesday for more questioning.
The retrial is expected to last four to six weeks, with the first several days devoted to jury selection. The vetting process began with Walton taking more than an hour to read 86 yes-or-no screening questions to the entire pool, including "Do you have any opinions about Major League Baseball — good, bad or whatever?"
Lawyers on both sides read a list of 104 people who could be called as witnesses or whose names could be mentioned during the trial, including former sluggers Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco; baseball commissioner Bud Selig; New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman; baseball writer Peter Gammons; and former Clemens teammates Paul O’Neill, Jorge Posada and Mike Stanton.
Perhaps the most important name is Brian McNamee, Clemens’ former strength trainer, who says he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone and says he kept used needles that will be entered as scientific evidence at trial.
Clemens lawyer Rusty Hardin stressed to the jury pool that not all of those potential witnesses would be called, or else they "would be here about two years."
Hardin asked several of the potential jurors if they could conceive of a situation in which somebody says something under oath that he believed to be true, which turns out not to be, without telling an intentional lie — raising the possibility that could be part of Clemens’ defense.
Clemens faces a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine if convicted on all six charges. Maximum penalties are unlikely because Clemens doesn’t have a criminal record, but Walton made plain at the first trial that Clemens was at risk of going to jail. Under U.S. sentencing guidelines, he probably would face up to 15 months to 21 months in prison.
Associated Press writer Joseph White contributed to this report.