Hard-Hitting Evidence in the Barry Bonds’ Trial: How They Got It In
Barry Bonds‘ trial has been well publicized and discussed. From the news stories we hear Bonds’ mistress, Kimberly Bell, testify about his perceived steroid rage and the growing (and shrinking) parts of his body. We hear Kathy Hoskins, Bonds’ former personal shopper testify that Greg Anderson, Bonds’ longtime trainer, injected Bonds with “a little something for when [Bonds goes] on the road.” We also hear former Major League Baseball players, specifically the Giambi brothers and Randy Velarde, testify that they also had relationships with Anderson and knew he was giving them steroids. We hear Michael Murphy, the longtime San Francisco Giants’ clubhouse manager, testify that Bonds’ hat size increased significantly from the time he began with the Giants until he retired. All of this testimony was widely publicized … so how did they become evidence in this trial?
I hosted a seminar featuring Professor Marc Ginsberg at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, regarding these issues in evidence. Obviously, the Rules of Evidence are much more complicated, with many more rules and exclusions and exemptions, but this will be a small primer. What Professor Ginsberg brought to light was that in 2010 in U.S. v. Barry Bonds, the Ninth Circuit paved the way for how the Government was eventually going to try the most recent suit that led to Bonds conviction. In the 2010 case, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Government could not introduce into evidence the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) laboratory records that presumably linked Bonds, because there were no other reliable witnesses, other than Anderson (who refused to testify, sat in jail, and was considered an unavailable witness) who could lay a proper foundation for the introduction of these important records. The Government needed to come up with another way to prove Bonds took steroids and lied about it … and it decided to introduce all of the testimony that we eventually saw played out on news stories across the country.
Evidence needs to be relevant in order to be admitted. This means that if the thing you are trying to admit has any tendency to make the existence of a fact more or less probable, then it can be admitted. However, some relevant evidence is still inadmissible if the “prejudicial value outweighs the probative value.” What this means is that if the Judge finds that the piece of evidence helps prove the existence of a fact, then the Judge needs to decide whether that piece of evidence will be prejudicial. Another important evidentiary issue that presented itself in Bonds’ trial is hearsay. Hearsay is an out of court statement, in any form, offered in court to “prove the truth of the matter asserted” … unless there is an exception. The prosecutors in Bonds’ matter were able to use those exceptions in order to get some of the major testimony admitted.
The prosecutors, through all of the testimony, attempted to show there was a deep connection between Bonds and BALCO; Professor Ginsberg ran through some of the evidentiary issues that the prosecutors encountered in order to do so. Why was the other Major League Baseball players’ testimony relevant? Because it would allow the jury, by inference, to piece together that Bonds had to be completely naïve if he believed he was not taking steroids supplied by Anderson, even though all of Anderson’s other clients testified they were supplied and took steroids.
What about Kimberly Bell’s, or Michael Murphy’s testimony? Why would they be able to testify about parts of Bonds’ body and his anger? As Professor Ginsberg addressed, this was admitted because witnesses can testify as to what they have seen; and Kimberly Bell saw certain body parts of Bonds getting smaller and bigger, and witnessed firsthand his anger. Michael Murphy did not testify as to what effect steroids have on the size of Bonds’ head; he just testified that Bonds hat size grew. This testimony does not go into what steroids do to a person’s body or to their personality, so it is not being presented for “the truth of the matter asserted” … but a doctor can (and did) testify as to what steroids do to an ordinary person’s body and personality. The jury, again, can piece together all of Bonds’ actions with those actions of an ordinary person on steroids. What about the secret recordings of Anderson, talking about detectability, or Kathy Hoskins’ testimony that Bonds told her his injection was “a little something for when I go on the road.” Isn’t this hearsay? Professor Ginsberg pointed out these pieces of evidence were admitted because an exception to the hearsay rule is “admission of party opponent,” and those statements were from Bonds directly, so they were admitted. The recordings were admissible because Anderson is unavailable as a witness, and the previously recorded statements were against his legal interests because the statements dealt with illegal steroid use at the time of the recording. Obviously, there were many more issues and much more testimony that was presented at the trial. But Professor Ginsberg touched on some of the “highlights” of the trial and how this damning evidence was admitted.
Barry Bonds’ case has brought up many issues as it relates to the Rules of Evidence. It also raises concerns regarding clients and their legal issues, as attorneys are very clever in gathering and admitting evidence. Just how Bonds’ case plays out in the future (Appeal? Another trial?) is yet to be seen.