WASHINGTON (AP) — Roger Clemens put his right hand on the lectern, leaned down toward the microphone and made what might be the most important pitch of his life: “Not guilty, your honor.”
Those words, uttered Monday in a strong, confident voice by the seven-time Cy Young Award winner sporting a black blazer and blond highlights in his hair, marked the official beginning of a court case that could taint baseball even further and land the “Rocket” in jail.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton presided over an arraignment hearing that lasted less than 14 minutes in the ceremonial courtroom at the federal courthouse, across the street from the Capitol.
Walton set April 5 as the start of jury selection — the Monday of the first full week of the 2011 baseball season, and also around the time a case involving Barry Bonds, the all-time home run king, could be wrapping up in San Francisco.
Pete Rose, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Denny McLain are among former baseball stars to have spent time in jail. Clemens and Bonds, who chased history on the field throughout their careers, now could be chasing history off it.
They are both in jeopardy of becoming the first baseball star jailed because of a conviction related to the performance-enhancing-drug imbroglio that has sullied their sport for much of the past 15 years.
If convicted of six counts — three of making false statements, two of perjury and one of obstruction of Congress — Clemens could face up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine, although 15 to 21 months is the more likely sentence under federal guidelines.
As he has throughout the process, Clemens again fought any suggestion that he cheated during a 23-season career that ended with 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts. He won his first three Cy Young awards in 1986, ’87 and ’91, dipped ever so slightly, then won four more in 1997, ’98, 2001 and 2004, at the age of 42.
On Monday, he was in Washington because of testimony he gave to Congress in 2008. He went before a House committee to clear his name after becoming a prominent figure in the Mitchell Report, which came out the year before with an unflinching account of baseball’s drug crisis.
Back then, Clemens testified: “Let me be clear. I have never taken steroids or HGH.”
This time, his words were fewer but every bit as forceful. And his actions spoke of a man who refused to let a court appearance ruin his day.
He arrived at the courthouse four hours early to go through fingerprinting and paperwork that is often left for after the official work in court is complete.
Clemens apparently was trying to get to North Carolina in time to play in the first round of a weeklong amateur golf tournament. He arrived at The Pearl golf course in Calabash, N.C., shortly after 5 p.m. and shot a 12-over 84, matching wife Debbie’s first-day score.
Clemens declined to answer questions about his court appearance, but did thank tournament organizers for allowing him to compete in the event under the circumstances.
After going through processing early in the day, Clemens and his team of lawyers — led by Rusty Hardin of Houston — ate in the main cafeteria.
In the lunchroom, Clemens offered no comment, other than a friendly “Hey, how ya doing,” to an Associated Press reporter. Hardin also didn’t comment, saying he didn’t want to violate the gag order Walton has imposed on those involved in the trial.
Before the short hearing, Clemens could be seen striding between meeting rooms on the sixth floor as Hardin and prosecuting attorneys Daniel Butler and Steven Durham exchanged discovery documents.
Then, Clemens walked into the 300-seat chamber, adorned with statues depicting ancient arbiters of justice and portraits of former federal judges. He adjusted his cuffs and collar a few times, said a word or two to Hardin, sat down, then stood when Walton entered.
Hardin waived his client’s right to have the charges read, then Walton asked for Clemens’ plea.
“Not guilty, your honor,” he said, before going back to the defense table where he sat still while the lawyers and judge parsed over hearing dates and discovery issues.
Clemens was released with no bail and no real restrictions. His only discernible reaction came when Durham asked that the court hold his passport, and Clemens turned to one of his attorneys and shook his head.
“I think he’s well-known enough that if he were to depart the country, someone would know who he is,” Walton said.
The case has been portrayed, probably simplistically, as one of Clemens’ word against those who gave unfriendly testimony against him in Congress. The key figures there are his former trainer Brian McNamee, who said the pitcher did use steroids and HGH. Former teammate Andy Pettitte also told congressional investigators that Clemens told him he had used HGH — a conversation Clemens said Pettitte “misremembers.”
But in asking to push the start of the trial to next year — with the agreement of the prosecutors — Hardin said there is much scientific evidence to comb through, as well, including presumably the syringes McNamee says he used to inject Clemens with drugs.
On Monday, Hardin was given access to the grand jury testimony and FBI interviews that were used to indict Clemens, along with a 34-page master index and 12 computer discs of evidence. Durham called the evidence “voluminous.”
“There’s a good deal of scientific evidence that needs to be tested,” Hardin told the judge. “We’re at the mercy of the experts.”
While the crux of the case is whether Clemens used steroids or HGH, any conviction would have to come on evidence that he lied to Congress about it. It’s a sort of backdoor way that authorities have used to ensnare some of America’s most high-profile athletes who have been accused of using PEDs.
Sprinter Marion Jones went to jail when, threatened with years in prison because of an illegal check-writing scheme, she finally admitted to lying about drugs, too.
The Bonds case is also a perjury case, set to start March 21. He has pleaded not guilty to charges that he lied to a grand jury in December 2003 when he testified that he never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs.
As Clemens hustled out of the courtroom, he was followed by at least 50 reporters, then met by 100 more cameramen. Two security guards trying to help him out of the building and into his waiting Escalade nearly tackled the pitcher as they tried to keep onlookers at bay.
One fan yelled “I love you!” but Clemens likely didn’t hear. He already had his iPod on.
Associated Press Writer Pete Iacobelli in Calabash, N.C., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.