WASHINGTON — Prospective jurors screened Thursday for the Roger Clemens perjury trial were more critical of Congress for spending time investigating drugs in baseball than they were of the star pitcher on trial for lying to lawmakers about ever using them.
The 11-time all-star watched intently but didn’t speak as members of the jury pool faced intense questioning from the judge and lawyers from both sides. Nearly as many were turned away on the second day as qualified to be considered for the panel that will eventually be seated, including two who were excused after they said they weren’t sure they could be fair because of their feelings about Congress.
“Even members of Congress have lied to Congress and they have not been prosecuted,” said one of the panellists who was excused.
Clemens faces six felony counts on accusations he lied to Congress under oath when he testified that he never used steroids or human growth hormone. His statements came during a deposition and a hearing at the House Government Reform committee, which took up the issue after a report to Major League Baseball accused Clemens and 85 other current and former players of using performance-enhancing drugs.
Clemens’ longtime trainer, Brian McNamee, testified to the committee that he injected the seven-time Cy Young Award winner repeatedly with both substances. And Clemens’ former teammate and close friend Andy Pettitte said Clemens once told him he used human growth hormone. Clemens says Pettitte misheard him and that McNamee lied.
Committee leaders asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Clemens committed perjury.
One potential juror said he saw the documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster(asterisk) that questioned whether steroids should be illegal and suggested the Clemens investigation was a waste of congressional resources. The man, who is chief financial officer at an accounting firm, called the film convincing and said he agreed Congress should have higher priorities than steroids.
“Given all the problems the country faces, it wouldn’t have been high on my list,” the CFO said.
A woman who works as a federal contracting officer had a similar opinion, although she expressed reluctance to question lawmakers’ decisions. Prosecutor Steven Durham pressed her on whether she believes the investigation was a waste of taxpayer money. She paused, smiled and acknowledged, “Honestly, yes.” But she said she could still fairly judge the case and was told to return as a possible juror.
Clemens’ lawyer Rusty Hardin pressed potential jurors on their feelings about steroids in baseball. “I’ve never gotten hate mail as intense as I have than while representing him because baseball fans feel so intensely about the subject,” Harden told one prospective juror who is a fan, drawing a smile from Clemens.
Jury selection moved slowly, and U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said as the afternoon wore on that it was clear the screening process wouldn’t be finished Monday as he hoped but more likely would take until Tuesday or Wednesday because the trial is in recess on Friday.
He urged lawyers to move quicker. “Please be prudent in what you ask,” Walton said.
Others were excused because they had trouble with the English language or medical issues, with 18 qualified by the end of the day. Thirty-six need to be qualified to accommodate the cuts that both sides are allowed to make without explanation as they seat a final panel of 12 jurors and four alternates. The trial is expected to last into August.
One woman, a former estate attorney, retired legal writer and “die-hard” Washington Nationals fan, acknowledged she wants to be a juror and said she could help keep the panel focused on the legal decisions they need to make. “I feel like this is a situation where it’s important to get it right,” she said. She was qualified to return for the next step in selection.
Follow Nedra Pickler’s coverage of the Clemens trial at http://twitter.com/nedrapickler