SAN FRANCISCO – Holiday season could become open season on athletes caught up in the BALCO steroids scandal, including Barry Bonds, whose drug-test results might be made public any day.
The judge in Bonds' perjury case surprised court observers Wednesday by approving a request made last week by the government to lift the veil on a reported 33,000 pages of previously sealed grand jury testimony from dozens of elite athletes who testified five years ago before a San Francisco grand jury.
Among the more explosive revelations thought to be contained in the files are several of Bonds' tests results for anabolic steroids, a source said.
However, sources said the government will not release the unsealed material on its own, at least not for now. The only immediate impact of Judge Susan Illston's order is that the threat of prosecution and jail time has been removed from any BALCO witness or source who wants to leak information.
How the order will impact Bonds' trial, set for March, is a matter of debate. Former prosecutors say that a flood of documents or leaked testimony might make choosing an impartial jury a greater challenge. Key figures in the BALCO case may soon be free to comment on documents and testimony kept secret for years.
Past and present Major League players likely to be have testimony made public include Jason and Jeremy Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Randy Velarde, A. J. Pierzynski, Benito Santiago, Armando Rios, Bobby Estalella and Marvin Benard. Many track and field athletes, including Marion Jones, also testified about the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative.
Though a handful of athletes had snippets of their grand jury testimony leaked in the San Francisco Chronicle years ago, this will be the first time every one of the more than 30 witnesses could find their testimony made public.
Three categories of evidence are covered by the order: transcripts, medical records and laboratory results, and search warrants affidavits.
BALCO mastermind Victor Conte believes that the release of testimony and lab results may hold a silver lining for defense lawyers in the Bonds case because it could appear the government engaged in selective enforcement by focusing on the all-time home run king.
"There are other people who lied to the grand jury who have not been charged," Conte said. "The government thinks this is good news. This is good news for Barry Bonds."