April 22, 2015 / 8:59 PM / in 3 years

U.S. strikes out with prosecution of baseball great Barry Bonds

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Baseball slugger Barry Bonds’ conviction of obstructing justice during a government probe into steroid use was overturned by a U.S. appeals court on Wednesday, but the legal victory likely will not remove the tarnish attached to Bonds’ on-the-field accomplishments.

Former San Francisco Giants baseball player Barry Bonds gestures to the media outside the Phillip Burton Federal Building after the former home run king was found guilty on one count of obstruction of justice and mistrial on three counts of perjury in San Francisco, California in this April 13, 2011, file photo. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/Files

The case involved testimony Bonds, 50, gave to a grand jury in 2003 about whether he used steroids to help him bash more long balls. Bonds told grand jurors about his childhood when asked whether his former trainer, Greg Anderson, had given him self-injectable substances.

The slugger was convicted on one obstruction charge in 2011, and the jury deadlocked on three perjury counts. His sentence of two years of probation and 30 days of home confinement was put on hold pending his appeal.

In a ruling on Wednesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said Bonds gave “a rambling, non-responsive answer to a simple question.” Prosecutors did not provide enough evidence that his statement was material to their investigation, the court ruled, and Bonds could not be retried for obstruction.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment on the opinion, as did a representative for Major League Baseball. An attorney for Bonds, Dennis Riordan, said it was “rare” and “extraordinary” for an appeals court to declare that Bonds could not be retried.

The steroids scandal tarnished some of the biggest stars in baseball. Besides Bonds, other players widely suspected of doping - including Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa - have also been snubbed in Hall of Fame voting in recent years despite not failing drug tests.

Clemens was acquitted in 2012 on charges that he lied to Congress.

After seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bonds played for the San Francisco Giants from 1993 until he retired in 2007 as Major League Baseball’s career home run leader with 762. He also holds the single-season record with 73 homers in 2001.

Asked if Anderson ever gave him a substance that required a syringe, Bonds answered: “I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation.”

An 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit voted 10-1 to reverse Bonds’ conviction, but the 10 judges siding with Bonds disagreed with each other on the legal reasoning.

Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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