SAN FRANCISCO >> Barry Bonds’ obstruction of justice conviction was thrown out Wednesday by a federal court of appeals, which ruled 10-1 that his meandering answer before a grand jury in 2003 was not material to the government’s investigation into illegal steroids distribution.
“Real-life witness examinations, unlike those in movies and on television, invariably are littered with non-responsive and irrelevant answers,” Judge Alex Kozinski wrote.
Baseball’s career home runs leader was indicted in 2007 for his testimony four years earlier before the grand jury investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative.
Dennis Riordan, Bonds’ appellate lawyer, spoke with his client after the ruling.
“He said an enormous, enormous weight had been lifted from his body and soul,” Riordan said.
Jessica Wolfram, one of the jurors who convicted Bonds, said she couldn’t help but feel it was “all a waste, all for nothing.”
“Just a waste of money, having the whole trial and jury,” she said.
Following the trial that opened in March 2011, a jury deadlocked on three counts charging Bonds with making false statements when he denied receiving steroids and human growth hormone from trainer Greg Anderson and denied receiving injections from Anderson or his associates.
Bonds was convicted for his response when he was asked whether Anderson ever gave him “anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with.”
“That’s what keeps our friendship,” Bonds said. “I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation, you see.”
Judges divided on the rationale, with four separate opinions to throw out the conviction and one to uphold it. The appeals court barred a retrial, citing prohibitions on double jeopardy.
Wolfram said she remembers there being some confusion among the jurors over the fact that he did answer the question later in the testimony.
The government could ask the 11-judge panel to reconsider Wednesday’s decision or could request that all 29 judges on the 9th Circuit rehear the case. The full court has never sat on a case since it began using the “limited en banc” panels in 1980.
Prosecutors also could petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision.
“The real significance is the damage that it undid,” Riordan said. “It’s no longer a federal crime if you manage to falter or stumble or get off track” while testifying before a grand jury.
A seven-time NL MVP and the son of three-time All-Star Bobby Bonds, Barry Bonds was sentenced in 2011 by U.S. District Judge Susan Illston to 30 days of home confinement, two years of probation, 250 hours of community service in youth-related activities and a $4,000 fine. He already has served the home confinement.
Illston declared a mistrial on the three other counts, and the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco dismissed those charges in August 2011.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit upheld the conviction in a unanimous vote in 2013, but a majority of the court’s 28 participating judges voted to have an 11-judge panel rehear the case. Oral arguments took place Sept. 18.
“I could not be more happy that Barry Bonds finally gets to move on with his life,” BALCO founder Victor Conte said. “Let’s hope the prosecutors choose not to waste any more resources on what has been nothing more than a frivolous trophy-hunt and a complete waste of taxpayer dollars.”
AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen and Associated Press writer Paul Elias contributed to this report.