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Roger Clemens lawyers open with strategy to discredit key witness

Roger Clemens' lead attorney says in perjury trial's opening statements that strength coach Brian McNamee is lying about the former pitcher's steroid use — and profiting.

April 24, 2012|By Ian Duncan
  • Former Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens leaves federal court in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
Former Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens leaves federal court… (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated…)

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for Roger Clemens, seeking to discredit a key government witness in the All-Star pitcher's perjury trial, contend that Brian McNamee is telling lies, on which he is cashing in.

McNamee, a former strength coach, has said he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone. Rusty Hardin, the lead Clemens attorney, said in his opening statement Tuesday that the former trainer had become a celebrity as a result of the allegations he made against Clemens.

"He has been making money off his celebrity nature," the lawyer said, pointing to an as yet unpublished book by McNamee.

Hardin also attacked physical evidence McNamee supplied, calling needles and gauze that allegedly contain traces of Clemens' DNA and steroids a "mixed-up hodgepodge of garbage." The government's own scientific expert said in March the evidence could have been faked, according to Hardin, who maintained McNamee put steroids into a needle after injecting Clemens with vitamin B12.

It is "ludicrous to suggest it's evidence of anything," Hardin said, while the jury looked at a picture of the needle and gauze lying next to a Miller Lite can, where McNamee said he stored them.

Hardin told the jury it would hear from no one but McNamee about drug use by Clemens and showed jurors a diagram of efforts by 103 federal agents to find anyone to corroborate the trainer.

"In spite of this kind of effort, they did not turn up one single thing," Hardin said.

Clemens was charged with perjury, obstruction of Congress and making false statements after he told a House committee in 2008 he had never used steroids or HGH. His testimony contradicted the findings of the Mitchell Report on steroid use in Major League Baseball, which named him among 89 players who had used the drugs.

On Monday, lead prosecutor Steven Durham described Clemens as a man trapped in a web of lies. But Hardin said the pitcher had simply "dared to deny he was guilty of a crime."

"Our government shouldn't punish someone for trying to clear his name," Hardin said, speaking almost in a whisper.

Although Durham said Monday that three key men in the case — Clemens, McNamee and New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, a former teammate of Clemens — had a close relationship, Hardin singled out McNamee. Pettitte is expected to testify that Clemens told him about HGH, but Hardin suggested Pettitte will actually help his client.

"Pettitte's testimony will be some of the most convincing of all," he said, hinting it will rely solely on Pettitte's memory of his conversations with Clemens and noting the men remain friends.

The opening statements displayed the different styles employed by Hardin and Durham.

Hardin compared himself to absent-minded television detective Lt. Columbo, drawing smiles from a few jurors. Durham took a hectoring tone Monday, frequently pausing to refer to his notes and describing events in the case out of order.

The first trial against Clemens collapsed last July on its second day after prosecutors allowed jurors to see inadmissible evidence on a video screen. The first witness was heard early Tuesday, but the trial recessed until next week as the judge attended to business outside of Washington.

ian.duncan@latimes.com

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