12:02pm

Thu July 14, 2011
Law

Judge Declares Mistrial In Clemens Perjury Case

A mistrial was declared Thursday in the perjury trial of baseball star Roger Clemens after the judge said prosecutors had ignored warnings not to show jurors inadmissible evidence.

Clemens' defense will now go to work on a motion to avoid a retrial.

On the first full day of testimony, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said the former New York Yankees pitcher could not be guaranteed a fair trial after the jury was shown video of Clemens' 2008 testimony before Congress. During that appearance before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, prosecutors claim Clemens lied to lawmakers when he said he had never used banned drugs during his 24-season career in the Major Leagues.

The judge interrupted the presentation of the video and recessed to consider whether to rule a mistrial. When he returned, Walton thanked the jury for its service, apologized for having wasted their time and chastised the prosecution.

"There are rules that we play by and those rules are designed to make sure both sides receive a fair trial," Walton told the jury, saying such ground rules are critically important when a person's liberty is at stake.

He said that because prosecutors broke his rules, "a fair trial with this jury would be very difficult if not impossible."

Prosecutors had suggested the problem could be fixed by instructing the jury to disregard the evidence, but Walton said he didn't see "how I un-ring a bell."

A key piece of evidence in the perjury trial is testimony from Clemens' former teammate, Andy Pettitte, who said the Yankees pitcher told him in 1999 or 2000 that he had used human growth hormone. Clemens has maintained that Pettitte misheard him. Pettitte also said he told his wife, Laura, about the conversation the same day it happened.

But Walton declined to allow prosecutors to bring Laura Pettitte to the stand because she had not spoken directly to Clemens on the matter.

In the video shown to jurors, however, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, refers to the conversation between Pettitte and 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 angrily.

Walton said it was the second time that prosecutors had gone against his orders — the first time was on Wednesday when Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Durham said that Pettitte and two other former Yankee 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.

Hardin said he needs until July 29 to file a motion showing how a new trial would result in double jeopardy and the prosecution has until Aug. 2 to respond to it. A hearing on that motion is due Sept. 2.

With reporting from NPR's Tom Goldman and The Associated Press.

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