SAN FRANCISCO >> Some love Barry Bonds so much they can’t be impartial. Others already believe he’s guilty. A mother worried about the effect sports doping would have on her impressionable children. And so the laborious process of selecting a jury began Monday in the criminal case of USA v. Bonds.
More than three years after the all-time home run leader was charged with lying to a grand jury when he denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, his trial got under way in San Francisco federal court. The judge and lawyers were attempting to winnow about 100 prospective jurors down to 12 jurors and four alternates for a case that could take up to four weeks.
"It’s hard to make decisions about other people’s lives," juror No. 9 told U.S. District Judge Susan Illston when asked if he could be impartial.
"It’s the hardest thing we do," replied the judge, who has sealed the prospective jurors’ names until after the trial concludes.
"I haven’t done too good with (my life)," juror No. 9 concluded before sitting back down. He remained eligible for the jury, but 42 other people in the pool were dismissed from the case before the questioning began Monday.
Illston excused one juror because of a death in a family. A second person was dismissed because of his allegiance to the San Francisco Giants.
"I’m a Barry Bonds fan and I’m a huge SF Giants fan. It’s my life. I don’t know if I could judge Mr. Bonds after providing me with so much entertainment. It’s an intimate relationship," prospective juror No. 22 wrote on a questionnaire he filled out on Thursday. "I don’t think I could find him guilty."
No. 22 identified himself as age 35 and working at Target as an "in-stock team member."
Illston also granted the request of both sides to dismiss 38 prospective jurors with perceived biases.
"My opinion is that steroids is ok to be used since these are the jobs of athletes," prospective juror No. 29 stated in his questionnaire before being dismissed. "If a player must advance in his/her jobs, supplements should be able to be used."
Illston said she expects to have just enough people to fill the jury. Most of those who remained told the judge they could stay impartial, though several with strong impressions of the case still remained in the jury pool, taking direct questions from the judge.
The judge spent the morning questioning the jury pool and then prosecutors and Bonds’ lawyers quizzed the assembled group after lunch. At about 2 p.m. local time, the judge announced the end of questioning and the two sides began to silently pick a jury by exchanging recommendations on paper with one another. It was still uncertain if the two sides could agree to sit an entire jury from the pool of prospective jurors that showed up Monday.
"I would be reluctant to render a judgment against a great athlete like Bonds," juror No. 24, a single, 61-year-old man living on disability payments, told Illston. "It would color my judgment."
The judge thanked the man for his time, and he sat down to await a decision on whether he would remain on the jury.
Juror No. 74 said her experience working as a flight attendant on baseball teams’ flights years ago would make it tough for her to be fair. "I’m still getting over my baseball charters," she said.
Another juror identified herself as an administrative assistant with Google Inc.
"Everyone looks up to these athletes, including young kids and its sad they take drugs to do better. What are kids learning?" the 42-year-old wrote on her questionnaire. "I have young impressionable kids and they do sports. I would be distraught if they felt they had to take drugs to do well in any arena."
Bonds, who played for San Francisco when he hit 73 homers in a season and when he broke Hank Aaron’s career home-run record, has pleaded not guilty to one count of obstruction and four charges of lying to a grand jury.
When he initially entered his plea in December 2007, he was met by a huge crowd of media, fans and others as television helicopters hovered overhead. Much of that attention was missing on Monday. About a dozen photographers milled outside, but few fans were there to see Bonds walk into the federal courthouse in San Francisco dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and silver tie.
While Bonds sat with his star-studded legal team at the defense table, Jeff Novitzky, the federal agent who led the investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, joined the prosecutors. Bonds is the biggest name to go to trial from the BALCO probe.