NEW YORK (CBSNewYork / AP) — The judge presiding over Roger Clemens’ perjury trial has declared a mistrial over over inadmissible evidence shown to jurors that could have prejudiced them against the former Yankees star.
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“In the United States of America we try to ensure that everybody that comes into our courthouse is treated fairly,” U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said. “I have no alternative, despite the tremendous loss of time, effort and money.”
Walton scolded prosecutors for twice violating his orders not to reveal certain evidence to the jury and said it put the whole case at risk. He took a short recess Thursday morning to consider how to rule on a motion for a mistrial from Clemens’ attorney Rusty Hardin.
When Walton returned, he made it official: mistrial.
He said that because prosecutors broke his rules, “the ability… to get a fair trial with this jury would be very difficult if not impossible.”
Defense attorney Hardin patted an unsmiling Clemens on the back as the judge announced his decision. Clemens did not speak to reporters as he left the courtroom and made a telephone call in a private corner of the hallway.
Clemens and his lawyers remain under a court gag order and they declined to comment as they left the courthouse. Clemens hugged a couple of court workers, shook hands with the security guards and signed autographs and a couple of baseballs for fans.
“I’m not going to say anything,” Clemens said, sounding frustrated at the mass of reporters and camera crews. He and his legal team ducked into a nearby restaurant to escape the horde of news people.
A Sept. 2 hearing was set to determine whether to hold a new trial.
Prosecutors suggested the problem could be fixed with an instruction to the jury to disregard the evidence, but Walton seemed skeptical. He said he could never know what impact the evidence would have during the jury’s deliberations “when we’ve got a man’s liberty at interest.”
“I don’t see how I un-ring the bell,” said Walton.READ MORE: 2 Islanders Games Postponed Amid COVID-19 Outbreak
Walton interrupted the prosecution’s playing of a video from Clemens’ 2008 testimony before Congress and had the jury removed from the courtroom. Clemens was accused of lying during that testimony when he said he never used performance-enhancing drugs during his 24-season career in the Major Leagues.
One of the chief pieces of evidence against Clemens is testimony from his former teammate and close friend, Andy Pettitte, who says Clemens told him in 1999 or 2000 that he used human growth hormone. Clemens has said that Pettitte misheard him. Pettitte also also says he told his wife, Laura, about the conversation the same day it happened.
Prosecutors had wanted to call Laura Pettitte as a witness to back up her husband’s account, but Walton had said he wasn’t inclined to have her testify since she didn’t speak directly to Clemens.
Walton was angered that in the video prosecutors showed the jury, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., referred to Pettitte’s conversation with his wife.
“I think that a first-year law student would know that you can’t bolster the credibility of one witness with clearly inadmissible evidence,” Walton said.
He said it was the second time that prosecutors had gone against his orders — the other being an incident that happened during opening arguments Wednesday when assistant U.S. attorney Steven Durham said that Pettite and two other of Clemens’ New York teammates, Chuck Knoblauch and Mike Stanton, had used human growth hormone.
Walton said in pre-trial hearings that such testimony could lead jurors to consider Clemens guilty by association. Clemens’ defense attorney objected when Durham made the statement and Walton told jurors to disregard Durham’s comments about other players.
There was no objection from Clemens’ team during the Laura Pettitte reference, but the judge stopped the proceedings, called attorneys up to the bench and spoke to them privately for several minutes. Hardin pointed out during that time, the video remained frozen on the screen in front of jurors with a transcript of what was being said on the bottom.
Cummings had been quoting from Laura Pettitte’s affidavit to the committee. “I, Laura Pettitte, do depose and state, in 1999 or 2000, Andy told me had a conversation with Roger Clemens in which Roger admitted to him using human growth hormones,” the text on the screen read.
Walton later told jurors: “We have taken a week out of your life to reach this point. When a judge makes rules regarding evidence that can or cannot be presented to the jury … there is an obligation of the lawyers to comply.”
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