Commentary

Courtroom bubble shields jury

Those who know BALCO, Bonds cases have seen a different version of events than jury

Updated: April 7, 2011, 11:06 PM ET
By T.J. Quinn | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Assume for a minute that the 12 members of the Barry Bonds jury are doing as they're ordered and are ignoring any news or talk of the case. Assume they knew nothing about the government's investigation, about the refusal by strength trainer and convicted steroid dealer Greg Anderson to testify against his longtime friend, and about all the evidence that was excluded because of Anderson's actions.

Inside the bubble of the courtroom, both the prosecution and the defense tried to sell stories to jurors that contradict more than seven years of conventional wisdom among people who have followed the case.

Conventional wisdom is hardly a reliable measure of the truth (the idea of a flat earth once seemed pretty conventional), which is why a jury swears an oath to come to the case with no preconceptions. But outside the bubble, the stories of BALCO and Bonds are almost comically different from the ones told to the jury over the past three weeks.

Right or wrong, the narrative was a burden to both sides.

The first premise lingering outside the courtroom:

Barry Bonds started taking steroids in 1999. He took Winstrol and Deca-Durabolin, classic big-man drugs, and blew up like popcorn in a microwave. Anderson brought him to BALCO and put Bonds on a regimen with human growth hormone and "the cream" and "the clear," which were anabolic steroids engineered to evade detection. The narrative came together from evidence the government seized but couldn't get into the record: Agents found calendars and logs that they said detailed Bonds' extensive steroid use, along with the results of drug tests that showed he was using.

The problem is that U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston ruled the government couldn't use most of that evidence unless Anderson, who spent three months in prison for illegally distributing performance-enhancing drugs, connected it to Bonds. Anderson has spent about 14 months in prison for contempt rather than testify. Even the fact that Anderson chose prison over a grand jury appearance was taken as clear evidence in the court of public opinion that his testimony could only incriminate Bonds.

It all adds up to a compelling tale, even though that evidence was never tested in court, as defense attorney Cris Arguedas pointed out in her closing argument Thursday.

This is the story the defense asked the jury to believe: Bonds was never told what he was taking. His friend, Anderson, gave him anabolic steroids without telling him, even though other ballplayers testified that they knew what they were getting. Bonds never used steroids of any kind before 2003.

The public preconception that flummoxed the government:

Bonds was the selective target of then-IRS agent Jeff Novitzky, who wanted to take down an overblown, steroid-fueled jerk who cheated to become the greatest home run hitter in history. The government, the story goes, played fast and loose with evidence and the rules, and either ignored the tainted history of its friendly witnesses or strong-armed the ones who wouldn't cooperate.

That story seeped from the complaints of BALCO founder Victor Conte and former major league pitcher Jason Grimsley, who said Novitzky attributed statements to them that they never made. But the portrait of Novitzky as an athlete-obsessed Javert gained credence after a 2004 Playboy magazine interview with Iran White, a special agent with the San Mateo County narcotics task force. White said Novitzky wanted to bring Bonds down and that he wanted to sell a book about it. But even people who didn't necessarily buy the accusations of Novitzky's misconduct came to believe that he was determined to get Bonds.

Novitzky has gained a reputation as a dogged, unapologetic dumpster diver, but the way the jury heard it from his testimony, he just happened to stumble on Bonds' name while in mid-dive in 2003. Novitzky, who was one of the most effective witnesses to take the stand, told the jury he was looking through BALCO garbage when he saw a magazine photo of Bonds with Conte and Anderson, and he thought Bonds might be a good witness. One thing led to another, and suddenly Bonds is threatening to derail a massive federal investigation.

Two key government witnesses had their own stories to tell:

Steve Hoskins, Bonds' longtime friend and former business partner, was presented to the jury as a devoted confidant trying to deter his friend from dangerous drug use. Hoskins said he secretly taped a conversation with Anderson about Bonds' steroid use so he could prove to Bonds' father, Bobby, that Barry was using. Hoskins said he quit working as Bonds' business manager because Bonds was too demanding of his time.

Which doesn't mean his story is true.

Followers of the case know Hoskins to be a jilted friend who was accused of theft and had a weird habit of secretly taping people as he tried to extort his former benefactor.

Which doesn't mean his story is false.

The other witness, Kimberly Bell, was presented as a jilted lover who wasn't angry that Bonds dumped her after nine years together and refused to pay for a house he had promised her. The story the rest of the BALCO cognoscenti knew: She was angry. Really angry. Angry enough to talk about Bonds' testicles in court.

The one story that no one is disputing is that Barry Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs. Whether he started using the heavy stuff in 1999 as the government says or he used only "the cream" and "the clear" unwittingly in 2003, he doped. Whether he's convicted or not, that part of the story can't be rewritten.

T.J. Quinn is a reporter in ESPN's investigative and enterprise unit. He can be reached at tjquinn31@yahoo.com.

T.J. Quinn joined ESPN in November 2007 as an investigative reporter for ESPN's Enterprise Unit, which is charged with developing long-form, investigative features to be presented across multiple platforms.