With the ever-present media horde watching in a dimly lit courtroom, home run king Barry Bonds sat silently as his attorney entered a not guilty plea to 14 charges of lying and one count of obstructing justice stemming from his 2003 testimony about steroid use.
Bonds, a longtime San Francisco Giant who is currently teamless, appeared in federal court twice Friday morning — first to enter a plea and then to set a date for his trial, which was scheduled for March 2, 2009.
After the proceedings, Bonds’ lead attorney, Allen Ruby, said he would refuse any settlement agreement with federal prosecutors that did not exonerate his client.
“If the government chooses to dismiss all the charges before then that’s their decision,” he said. “The right way for this case to end is an acquittal and complete vindication of Barry Bonds.”
Bonds has been charged with lying about knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs when he testified in 2003 before a federal grand jury. At the time, the government was investigating the Burlingame-based Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative.
BALCO founder Victor Conte pleaded guilty in 2005 for steroid distribution and money laundering.
Bonds was allegedly a client of BALCO after his boyhood friend and trainer Greg Anderson introduced him to Conte. The left fielder transformed himself from a wiry, slick-fielding player into an enormous power-hitting machine.
Last season, his homer-hitting prowess propelled him past Hank Aaron’s career record of 755 home runs; Bonds ended the season with 762 for his career.
When news of the BALCO investigation and Bonds’ testimony broke, he became the face of what many had suspected: The national pastime had a steroids problem, even though Bonds had never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
In February of this year, Bonds’ testimony before the grand jury was unsealed. The court documents revealed that federal prosecutors had presented him with doping calendars with his initials on them and positive tests for steroids.
Michael Rains, another Bonds attorney, maintains that Bonds, who is loved locally but questioned nationally, said the hitter was the focus of the federal investigation.
“There’s no question that Barry Bonds has had a target on his back,” Rains said.
Bonds’ case is due back in court July 11. Bonds’ attorneys plan on challenging “defective” portions of the new indictment, Ruby said.
Court appearance was quick, quiet
When Barry Bonds stepped out of a huge black SUV on Friday, he faced a less-frenzied scene then previous court arrivals.
Marshals cordoned off the sidewalk to allow Bonds, his two bodyguards and his attorneys an easy passage to the Turk Street doors of the federal courthouse.
The 43-year-old appeared calm and collected, wearing a black pinstriped suit with a striped tie.
In the 15th-floor courtroom, Bonds’ 64-year-old aunt, Rosie Kreidler, received a hug and a kiss from the slugger. She has supported Bonds through his legal tribulations, coming to the courthouse in December and surprising him as he exited the building.
At the 9:30 a.m. arraignment, Bonds, through his attorney, entered a not guilty plea. The process was less than two minutes.
It was during the arraignment, however, when Bonds uttered his only words before the press, saying “yes” when asked if he was going to appear in court 90 minutes later for a trial date.
Bonds then accompanied his aunt to the 19th floor, chatting with her for 20 minutes before appearing in front of another judge.
Bonds exited the building as easily as he entered it — without offering a comment.