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Roger Clemens heads to trial on federal obstruction, lying charges

Roger Clemens’ federal criminal trial on six counts — including obstruction of Congress, making false statements to Congress and committing perjury before Congress — is scheduled to begin Wednesday in Washington. The trial of perhaps the dominant pitcher of a generation, starting with jury selection, is expected to last four to six weeks,

Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, faces a maximum prison sentence of 30 years if convicted of the charges, which arose after he testified in February 2008 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In those hearings, Clemens testified, among other things, that he never used performance-enhancing drugs.

“The benefit of perjury and obstruction cases is that it sends ripple effects to other investigations,” said Travis Tygart, senior managing director and general counsel of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. “This case goes to the heart of the foundation of our legal system. If we won’t go after this, we might as well not enforce any laws on our books.”

Clemens orchestrated a spirited public defense for himself after Major League Baseball released its groundbreaking December 2007 Mitchell Report into the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs by baseball players.

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In the report, former Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees strength and conditioning coach Brian McNamee reported he injected Clemens with the steroid Winstrol, testosterone and human growth hormone from 1998 to 2001.

Clemens, 48, engaged in a news conference and a “60 Minutes” interview, and took the trip to Washington with the message that he had never used performance-enhancing drugs.

McNamee is the government’s central witness. He has previously turned over syringes, bloodied gauze pads, tissues and items he claims were used to inject Clemens. Those items are on the government’s list of trial exhibits.

Clemens’ attorney, Rusty Hardin, is likely to assail McNamee’s credibility, pointing to the personal trainer’s misleading statements to police in a 2001 sexual assault investigation. There were allegations of rape, but no charges were filed against McNamee. Contacted Tuesday, Hardin declined to discuss the trial.

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Judge Reggie Walton on Tuesday said he hadn’t decided whether to allow the rape allegation against McNamee to be introduced at the trial.

Clemens’ former close friend and teammate with the Yankees, fellow starting pitcher Andy Pettitte, is a key player, given the fact he has testified to Congress that Clemens once confided in him about past performance-enhancing drug use. Clemens famously told Congress that Pettitte “misremembers” that conversation.

“I’ve always thought this case was strong for the government and that Pettitte is an unusually strong witness,” Chapman University law professor Katherine Darmer said. “He has no reason — no vendetta, no grudge that we know of — to lie. He’s such a tough witness for the defense, and a prosecutor’s dream.”

Walton also told attorneys Tuesday in a pretrial hearing that he was withholding the right to limit what Pettitte and two other former Yankees, utilityman Chuck Knoblauch and pitcher Mike Stanton, can testify about knowingly taking performance-enhancing drug injections from McNamee. Clemens told Congress that McNamee injected him only with vitamin B12 and lidocaine.

Walton said it might be a “danger” to Clemens to let the jury assume, “If they all knew, why wouldn’t Mr. Clemens know?”

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire


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