Commentary

McNamee a key but assailable witness

Clemens' former trainer important witness for government, even if reputation spotty

Updated: July 6, 2011, 3:22 PM ET
By T.J. Quinn | ESPN.com

The sullen Brian McNamee is a largely unsympathetic figure who denied for years that he ever provided performance-enhancing drugs to Roger Clemens. Writer Pat Jordan, in a 2001 profile of Clemens for The New York Times, described McNamee as a "sour, taciturn man with a long jaw and narrow eyes."

Brian McNamee
AP Photo/Manuel Balce CenetaBrian McNamee

How McNamee is being described for the Clemens trial: A key yet problematic witness for the prosecution.

A former New York City police officer once suspended for 30 days after letting a prisoner escape, McNamee was investigated for rape after an alleged 2001 incident at the Yankees' team hotel in St. Petersburg, Fla. McNamee was not charged after the woman, who had been given the "date rape" drug GHB, refused a forensic examination at a hospital and could not recall events from the evening. She also lied to investigators about why she was at the hotel in the first place.

But the police report painted a damaging portrait of McNamee, who admitted to lying to detectives. The government has a motion before Judge Reggie Walton asking that Clemens' attorneys not be allowed to mention the rape case during trial, saying it would be irrelevant and inflammatory. The government said in its motion that the defense should be allowed to ask McNamee about lying to investigators, but not what they were investigating.

McNamee also left an easy trail for the defense to mangle him, such as his claim to have a Ph.D., which he got through the mail. McNamee also said that after he was interviewed by George Mitchell, the former senator hugged him. Mitchell's staff said it recalled no such hug.

Inconsistencies that might seem trivial can be damaging in court if the defense plants the idea in the jury's collective mind that McNamee is not a man to be trusted.

McNamee is expected to have few friends in the courtroom, and observers say prosecutors probably will present him as a man with credibility problems who lied until he was confronted by investigators, who could have prosecuted him had he lied to them.

"The prosecution team was well-crafted by the U.S. Attorney's Office to find two experienced trial lawyers that are accustomed to handling witnesses who have as many credibility issues as Brian McNamee," said Danny Onorato, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Washington and a defense attorney with Schertler and Onorato. "They're extremely skilled in dealing with people who most juries would have a difficult time believing in trying to salvage that person as a witness. That's the key to the government's case."

Even the defense will need to gauge how hard it goes after McNamee, said veteran criminal defense attorney Andrew Wise.

"In some ways, it's a double-edged sword: The more you make McNamee look like a total scumbag, the more you chip away at your own client's image as the all-American idol," Wise said. "You can go after McNamee, but it had better be more along the lines of what his present-day motivation is rather than what a low-down, dirty scumbag he is, because your client was awfully close to that low-down, dirty scumbag."

T.J. Quinn is a reporter for ESPN's Enterprise/Investigations 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.