The prosecution's star witness underwent a withering cross-examination on Thursday at Roger Clemens' perjury trial. Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, is charged with lying to Congress when he testified that he never used performance-enhancing drugs. Brian McNamee, his one-time trainer, is the only witness who has firsthand evidence that contradicts the baseball-pitching ace.
Earlier this week, guided by the prosecution, McNamee testified in agonizing and repetitive detail about how he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone between 1998 and 2001.
In 2007, the trainer was caught in a federal probe of drugs in baseball. In exchange for a promise of no prosecution, he implicated Clemens and many other players. The question is whether he is a believable witness and whether the physical evidence he belatedly produced is the real deal or could conceivably have been doctored.
While the prosecution questioning this week has been thorough and laborious, the main event has been defense lawyer Rusty Hardin's cross-examination. Hardin, a Texas trial lawyer, is a shrewd and genial presence in the courtroom. But his persistent questioning managed to bring McNamee to the verge of losing his temper; the trainer was red-faced with fury as he left the witness stand for a break.
From the beginning of the cross-examination, Hardin set up a framework to box in McNamee. The defense lawyer put up an easel next to the jury and wrote on the large white paper: "mistakes," "bad memory" and "lies." Every time McNamee admitted changing his testimony — which he has done often — the defense lawyer asked him to put his change of heart into one of those categories.
In the cross-examination so far, McNamee has admitted to lying to federal investigators — he said he did so in order to minimize Clemens' use of steroids — and lying to the independent commission investigating drugs in baseball. But he has stuck to his basic story that he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone in 1998, 2000 and 2001.
His testimony may be meandering, his demeanor — as ESPN's Lester Munson puts it — "generically reprehensible." But on the key point — that he injected Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs — he is so far unshakable. This despite defense lawyer Hardin's concerted, if occasionally scattershot, attempt to portray McNamee as a serial liar.
Take just one exchange on Thursday, which centered on why McNamee held onto physical evidence corroborating his story, specifically syringes and cotton balls with steroid traces and Clemens' DNA. McNamee admitted that his explanation for why he kept the stuff has been a "moving target," and it continued moving Thursday.
His first explanation in 2008 was that it was to protect his family. Later, he said it was to keep his wife off his back because she was worried he would become the fall guy in any investigation. He admitted that he concealed the existence of the evidence from federal investigators for months, and that when he turned it over, didn't give the feds the wife explanation because she is "the mother of my children."
But now, he said, "she's involved," so she "has to take responsibility for her actions."
Responsibility for what actions, defense lawyer Hardin asked. McNamee then said his wife had had her DNA taken by federal investigators because she handled the material. But when Hardin pounced, asking when that happened, McNamee admitted he didn't know that as a fact but had just assumed it.
Whether any of this matters to the jury is unclear. The jurors have repeatedly expressed displeasure at the slow pace of the trial, and the prosecution said Thursday it likely will not be finished until the week after next.
Look for a battle of expert witnesses testifying as to whether that physical evidence could have been doctored — whether McNamee, a former policeman, could have taken needles used to inject Clemens with benign substances and then added traces of steroids.
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