(Fourth in a series about crime and punishment)
The Feds promised to come after Barry Bonds with a bazooka, but all they have marshaled to tarnish his Bazooka card is a BB gun. Which makes this a Base Ball story, a Bad Boy story, a Big Booboo story, not to mention a Bay Bridge story. In fact, the BB gun just might be a blunderbuss, since he apparently blundered when he bussed a certain ex-girlfriend who might be the government's starlet witness.
Yet to critics of overstepping prosecutors, this is another disturbing case of "a show about nothing," where a person is charged with no crime other than the crime of lying about the crime with which he is not being charged. This technique was used to jail the domestic tycoon, Martha Stewart, who was convicted of denying having illegally benefited from insider information in a stock trade. The information that put her inside was her failure to admit the crime for which she was not prosecuted.
On a grander scale, this ruse was employed to bring down I. Lewis Libby, former aide to the Vice President. The affectionately nicknamed "Scooter" found his training wheels yanked from under him and wound up a Federal felon. His offense was to mislead investigators about who leaked Valerie Plame's CIA status to Robert Novak and when. The leak itself was not considered fodder for an indictment, but not showing a correct facility in responding to investigators was enough to send him to a correctional facility.
A bit of the same proved the undoing of newspaper magnate Conrad Black. At least in his case the government got a minor fraud conviction as well, but his main downfall was the putative obstruction of justice. He was seen on videotape carting boxes out of his office, without delegating same to his valet, and this dramatic tableau convinced jurors he must have been engaged in hiding something nasty.
Now this has become the weapon of choice in the long-running Federal investigation of "sport doping." Sure enough, those dopes who play sports are falling into the same trap. First sprinter Marion Jones pled guilty to two counts of lying to investigators about steroid use. (Not to be confused with Marion Barry, the useful crack addict who has the courage of his prior convictions.) Her five Olympic medals were surrendered and her career is effectively ended.
Now Barry (Bonds, not to be confused with Marion Barry, the useful crack addict) has been indicted for perjury and obstruction, granting a rare off-season boon for baseball writers. We will be treated to a sibilant slew of saccharine sermons about sullied sportsmanship. All this may be mostly true, but the credibility of the authorities in bringing this complaint is somewhat attenuated as well. It seems absurd that in case after case the proof for the crime is deemed insufficient, yet the standard for determining the defendant lied is taken as well met and the fellow is haled into court.
Incidentally, had this system come into vogue a decade earlier, Bill Clinton would definitely have been prosecuted in Federal court. Kenneth Starr could have recommended obstruction of justice charges for cases less tawdry, and thus more susceptible to a successful impeachment. It would have been enough to show that Webster Hubbell was given $700,000 worth of no-show jobs and that he had been taped as promising he would never talk. Then obstruction of justice would be proven.
Instead the technicality of not knowing what Hubbell was hiding stymied Starr's team (which included Amy St. Eve, now Conrad Black's sentencing judge). In today's world, it might be enough to just say that the very fact he refused to tell what he was hiding constituted an obstruction of justice for whatever the heck it was. After all, no one ever prosecutes for the actual charge anymore. Justice is achieved when you tell the truth and they choose not to arrest. When you usurp that choice, they will lock you up for the rest of your natural life.
The evidence that Bonds lied in his grand jury testimony includes a chart on which his trainer marked the dosages administered to BB. Funnily enough, when Bonds began his career with Pittsburgh, Bobby Bonilla was his equal as a player, then later faded. Had they both gone to the trainer together they could have each sloughed the BB chart off on the other. As for the inadequate prosecutors who catch your words but not your actions, perhaps they should try the Army and B all they can B.
[Author's Note: In the last installment, we mentioned the Dr. Sam Sheppard murder case and the consensus that now deems him innocent. The definitive book on this subject is The Wrong Man by James Neff, available on Amazon for pennies and well worth the read.]
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