For 10 weeks, Roger Clemens sat before a federal jury, his freedom and reputation at stake, and never spoke a word in his defense. As it turned out, he didn’t need to.
The jury Monday acquitted the former Red Sox star of every charge in a celebrated perjury case against him. He faced six counts of lying to Congress in 2008 when he testified he had never used performance-enhancing drugs.
The verdict was seen as a rebuke of the government’s prosecution of one of baseball’s greatest pitchers.
The Rocket, as he was known for much of his 24-year career, came under scrutiny when a 2007 report by former senator George J. Mitchell alleged he received injections of steroids and human growth hormone from his trainer, Brian McNamee, from 1998 to 2001.
“It has been a hard five years,’’ he said in an emotional news conference outside the US District Court in Washington, D.C.
“I put a lot of hard work into that career,’’ said Clemens, who pitched for the Sox from 1984-96 and ranks with Cy Young as the franchise’s leader in wins (192). “It’s kind of uncomfortable to sit there and hear people talk about you, good or bad.’’
A power pitcher who seemed to defy nature by competing as an elite major leaguer until he was 44, Clemens next faces the prospect of Hall of Fame voters deciding whether he is worthy of induction in Cooperstown. He contends he sustained his pitching strength with injections of vitamin B12 and the anesthetic lidocaine, rather than illegal performance-enhancers, as prosecutors alleged. The seven-time Cy Young Award winner was considered an undisputed first-ballot Hall of Famer until the allegations began eroding his legacy. After the verdict, he choked with emotion as he thanked his family. He paused, then sighed with relief, uttering, “Whew.’’
Clemens, 49, spent a fortune in winning the acquittal, as the government did in prosecuting the case. Government lawyers, whose botched attempt to convict Clemens last year ended in a mistrial, appeared doomed nearly from the start of the second trial as numerous contradictions created gaps in their case.
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated only 10 hours after the lengthy proceedings before clearing Clemens of three counts of making a false statement under oath, two counts of perjury, and one count of obstruction of justice.
Prosecutors were widely criticized for spending too much time and money targeting Clemens. They declined to comment as they left the court, their office later issuing a prepared statement thanking the jury for its service.
“We respect the judicial process and the jury’s verdict,’’ the statement said. “The US Attorney’s office also wishes to thank the investigators and prosecutors, who pursued this case with tremendous dedication and professionalism after its referral to us from Congress.’’
While the verdict legally vindicates Clemens, his place in baseball history remains in question. For five years, he has been depicted as the face of steroid abuse among the game’s best pitchers, as former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds has been portrayed among the sport’s greatest hitters.
Bonds was convicted last year of obstructing justice in US District Court in San Francisco for misleading a grand jury investigating the use of illegal performance-enhancers among elite athletes. He was sentenced to 30 days of house arrest and is appealing the verdict.
Like Bonds, Clemens will be eligible for the Hall of Fame next year. Clemens’s lead attorney, Rusty Hardin, appealed for the pitcher’s Hall of Fame induction, saying the 11-time All-Star “has always said using steroids is cheating.’’
Hardin decried the prosecution as a product of overzealous congressional critics and federal lawyers. “What happened in this case is a horrible, horrible overreach of the government and everyone involved,’’ he said.
Prosecutors pinned their hopes largely on the testimony of McNamee and pitcher Andy Pettitte, a longtime friend and teammate of Clemens. But the defense team scored points by portraying McNamee as a vindictive drug dealer who could not be trusted - a point McNamee’s estranged wife, Eileen, drove home by taking the stand and rebutting much of his testimony. As for Pettitte, he contradicted his testimony. Pettitte, who admitted in 2007 that he had used human growth hormone supplied by McNamee, told the jury that Clemens had confided to him that he also had used HGH he received from McNamee. But Pettitte testified under cross-examination that there was a “50-50’’ chance he misheard Clemens.
Clemens exposed himself to trouble in 2008 when he joined several other prominent players before a congressional committee investigating illegal drug use in sports. He rebutted the findings in the Mitchell report by saying, “Let me be clear: I have never taken steroids or HGH.’’
Congressional leaders afterward asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Clemens lied under oath. According to Hardin, prosecutors offered Clemens a plea deal to resolve the case, which he rejected.
Monday, the jury returned a verdict quicker than Clemens anticipated, Hardin said. Clemens was jogging with his sons toward the Washington Monument when he received word to report to the courtroom. Afterward, as he prepared to leave the court for the final time, Clemens said, “I’m very thankful.’’