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Clemens returns to court

Ex-teammate key in perjury retrial

– Roger Clemens, the former New York Yankees pitcher accused of lying about steroid use, saw just two days of the government’s case against him last year before a prosecution error put an end to his perjury trial.

None of the key witnesses had taken the stand, leaving each side with little preview of the opposition’s strategy as Clemens’ retrial is set to begin today in federal court in Washington.

“In this case, because the trial started, then stopped as quickly as it did, I’m not sure there’s a huge advantage to either side,” said Benjamin Brafman, a New York lawyer who successfully defended former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn against rape charges.

Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young winner, is charged with one count of obstructing a congressional investigation, three counts of making false statements and two counts of perjury in connection with a congressional probe of ballplayers’ alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. If convicted on all counts, Clemens, 49, would face as long as 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton declared a mistrial in July after finding that prosecutors improperly showed the jury a video clip of a 2008 congressional hearing in which the wife of government witness Andy Pettitte was discussed. Walton had ruled earlier that no references to Laura Pettitte, or an affidavit she gave Congress, could be made during the government’s case.

Opening statements in the first trial signaled a defense focused almost exclusively on Brian McNamee, Clemens’ former trainer and the government’s only eyewitness. Clemens, who admits to being injected by McNamee, said he thought he was receiving vitamins and other permissible substances.

“Roger Clemens’ only crime was having the poor judgment to stay connected to Brian McNamee,” Clemens’ lawyer, Rusty Hardin, told jurors.

A congressional investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball concluded Clemens used banned substances toward the end of his 24-year career. Prosecutors said about 45 witnesses will support their contention that Clemens knowingly lied about drug use in a congressional interview and a public hearing in February 2008. Clemens has denied wrongdoing.

The trial, scheduled to last four to six weeks, will feature testimony from Clemens’ wife, former congressional investigators and Major League Baseball players, including former teammates Pettitte, Mike Stanton and Chuck Knoblauch.

While MacNamee may be the defense target, Pettitte is the linchpin to the government’s efforts, said Bernie Grimm, a Washington defense lawyer at Cozen O’Connor who isn’t involved in the case.

“This is not a whodunit case,” Grimm said. “Pettitte will be the deciding factor.”