Bonds' perjury trial set for March

SAN FRANCISCO – Barry Bonds is set to stand trial for perjury on March 2, 2009, freeing the home run king from attending any more hearings in the high profile BALCO case the rest of the year.

The slugger is charged with lying to a December 2003 federal grand jury about steroids and other banned drugs. The judge said during an arraignment Friday that Bonds won't need to appear in court again until February.

After the brief arraignment and a status hearing to set the trial date and a schedule for motions, a smiling Bonds strolled past a phalanx of cameras and shouting reporters to a waiting black SUV.

“Were you in Boston to try out for the Red Sox?” one reporter yelled.

“Are you going to play this year?” asked another.

Bonds didn't respond. One of his attorneys, Allen Ruby, said the defense would likely file motions challenging some of the counts in the new 15-count indictment filed last month. Bonds’ half dozen lawyers may also contend that the indictment is fraught with multiplicity, the same grounds the earlier indictment was dismissed by Judge Susan Illston.

The next hearing in the case is set for July 11, and a status hearing scheduled for August 29. Bonds does not have to appear in court again until a pretrial conference Feb 17, 2009.

Ruby said that discovery has been underway.

At 9:30 a.m., wearing a charcoal suit and blue striped tie, Bonds followed a clutch of marshals and three of his attorneys into a standing-room-only courtroom packed with media and lawyers.

Bonds kissed his aunt, Rosie Bonds Kreidler, who sat in a wheelchair by the front row. He gently touched her hand and smiled warmly, one eye taking in the crowd.

Bonds stood before the magistrate, flanked by attorneys Michael Rains, Ruby and Cristina Arguedas. On the other side stood the three BALCO prosecutors.

Magistrate Bernard Zimmerman summarized the 15-count superseding indictment against Bonds – 14 counts for lying to a federal grand jury about steroids and one count of obstruction of justice – charges that could result in 80 years in prison, and millions of dollars in fines.

Six months ago he stood in this same federal building for the very same purpose. Winter and spring have come and gone along with a good chunk of a major league baseball season without Bonds in uniform.

The silver-haired magistrate explained how the new 15-count indictment replaces the original five-count indictment thrown out by Illston in March.

Courtroom maneuvers the past several months won the defense a six-month delay in the case. The charges have not gone away. The original indictment, criticized by the judge for lumping multiple allegations into single charges, has grown into a new indictment with triple the counts.

Ruby spoke for the home run king.

“The plea is not guilty.”

The magistrate asked whether Bonds promised to appear before Judge Illston in 90 minutes for a status conference four flights up in familiar Courtroom 10, home of two recent BALCO trials and numerous guilty pleas.

“Yes,” Bonds nodded in a barely audible voice.

The status hearing was equally perfunctory, lasting no more than six minutes.

Afterward, down in front of the federal building, the ballplayer’s attorneys faced reporters.

“Barry Bonds is innocent,” Ruby said repeatedly. “Barry Bonds is not guilty. We are looking forward to the March 2 trial where that will be shown once and for all.”

The attorney refused to comment on whether the government’s victory in the Tammy Thomas perjury case and the mixed verdict in the Trevor Graham trial for lying to a federal agent were relevant in the Bonds case.

Ruby was asked whether he believed the government would call the lead BALCO investigator, FDA agent Jeff Novitzky, to testify against Bonds, as it has done in both the recent trials.

Ruby said he didn’t know, then added, “Any witness who doesn’t tell the truth will be subject to an intense challenge.”