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Bonds trial update: Agent Novitzky takes center stage

Mar 23, 2011, 6:49 AM EDT

Barry Bonds, Jeff Novitzky

The government’s first witness against Barry Bonds was called yesterday: agent Jeff Novitzky, the man who made the BALCO case. And the Brian McNamee case. And the Kirk Radomski case. And who has spearheaded  just about every other investigation into athletes and performance enhancing drugs, from Bonds to Lance Armstrong (case still building).

It was Novitzky who spent a year literally sifting through the trash outside the BALCO labs, looking for evidence of steroid distribution after he received a tip that bad stuff was going down there.  He’s a highly controversial figure who has been accused by some of having a vendetta against Barry Bonds, though that has always seemed like a stretch to me. More likely, it seems, is that he is a careerist who at times has gone too far in order to bring home cases that are less valuable to the protection of the public welfare than they are salacious and attention-grabbing.  His greatest trespass in my mind was his illegal-seizure of baseball’s 2004 drug testing results and subsequent creation of that list of 104 names, some of which have been leaked. He was smacked down by the courts for that.

His testimony yesterday is similar to the testimony he has given in multiple other BALCO cases, all of which have resulted in convictions. He explained how he got on BALCO’s trail, how he came to learn of its clients, including Bonds, and how when the government subpoenaed Bonds and other athletes, there was never an intention to go after them, just BALCO.

Novitzky was cross-examined sharply by Bonds’ lawyers — with many of the questions seemingly designed to discredit other witnesses against Bonds as opposed to attacking Novitzky head-on — but reports from the courtroom suggest that he maintained his cool and made a point to look at the jury when he spoke, not at the lawyer questioning him, which is a small but quite effective touch when a witness is trying to explain technical or scientific evidence. Law enforcement officers tend to do this well.

How effective his testimony was is open for debate. Gwen Knapp, who is in the courtroom live-tweeting the trial for the San Francisco Chronicle suggested that the facts weren’t being strung together very well and that the government, via Novitzky’s testimony, wasn’t explaining its case particularly effectively. The New York Times, in contrast, painted a picture of an engaged jury, following the exchanges between Novitzky and his inquisitors raptly.

Novitzky will continue to be cross-examined today. Then he will return to his work of bringing down cheating athletes. The value of his testimony and that work will both be open questions for some time.

  1. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Mar 23, 2011 at 8:18 AM

    Where Matlock when we need him?

  2. Jonny 5 - Mar 23, 2011 at 8:39 AM

    Estimated 10 – 50 million dollars for this case against Bonds. And if found guilty he’ll probably get house arrest and probation.

    • schlom - Mar 23, 2011 at 9:36 AM

      It’s best not to think about it.

  3. uberfatty - Mar 23, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    Why is this story acompanied by a picture of Joel McHale, and who shaved his head?

  4. guileless22 - Mar 23, 2011 at 9:57 AM

    I don’t get the time/expense argument. The main reason it has taken so long to prosecute Bonds is that he hired the best lawyers he could to make it hard for the government to prosecute him right? 99 times out of 100 the federal government has greater resources than the defendant but this is one of the rare cases where the opposite is true. Do people want the federal government to not prosecute rich people for perjury because it will be expensive and take a long time?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Mar 23, 2011 at 10:03 AM

      It wasn’t Bonds’ legal team that made the government spend two years on fruitless and quixotic appeals of evidentiary rulings that a first year law student could tell you had no chance.

      • guileless22 - Mar 23, 2011 at 10:30 AM

        I’ll defer to you on the details Craig since you have followed it much more closely than I have. I’m sure the government has exacerbated the costliness and length of the litigation too. But whether or not it is justified, it will always be expensive to prosecute people with unlimited resources to defend themselves. I think Martha Stewart’s trial took a month didn’t it?

      • cur68 - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:07 PM

        guileless22; “Do people want the federal government to not prosecute rich people for perjury because it will be expensive and take a long time?”
        Actually the trial and conviction of billionaire Conrad Black shows the exact opposite. He’s just as polarizing as Bonds and the charges against him were just as weak but complicated. But the legal system had the means to freeze the ill gotten assets of the allegedly rich criminal. When this happened to Black it really cut him down to size and prevented him hiring a team of sharpie lawyers from running the show. What he got were two legendary but washed up greedy old farts who bungled their way through the whole thing and let their client go to jail. Hence, a relatively quick conviction in a weak, but complicated case. With Bonds they should NOT have bungled the first questioning in the grand jury. As such the Bonds case now revolves around if he lied under oath or if he just didn’t answer all of the rambling question posed to him. Its simple in that respect. The fact that he’s rich really doesn’t come into it; the cost and time is because the case is weak, the prosecution is committed (why committed? You’ll have to ask them; seems like glory hounding to me, though), and all Bonds has to do is show up and let his lawyers cream them for bringing a weak case. Any decent lawyer could do it.

        ps. interestingly the prosecution don’t have to prove that the wealth is a direct result of criminal activity. They can just allege it is so, make a reasonably good argument to the judge and BOOM no moolah to pay for decent representation.
        sorry about the wall of text. I’m feeling garrulous today I guess..

      • garlicfriesandbaseball - Mar 23, 2011 at 1:58 PM

        Barry Bonds. Our token Martha Stewart. Makes you feel safe doesn’t it?

    • schlom - Mar 23, 2011 at 10:21 AM

      I think we don’t want the government to waste time on stupid cases that no one really cares about, except for Novitzky and the prosecutor who are trying to make a name for themselves.

    • rapmusicmademedoit - Mar 23, 2011 at 7:22 PM

      I don’t want the Gov’t wasting tens of millions of dollars to just puff out their chest and say I win…
      If they are trying to recover money, ok.
      This is bulllshit already.

  5. baboushka - Mar 23, 2011 at 1:04 PM

    I posted this comment on an earlier Bonds thread. And it works on this one too. You all do realize that if this case is ever appealed to the US Supreme Court, It will be judged by 3 justices who lied under oath to get on the court (perjury). The most infamous was Clarence Thomas, who lied about his entire sordid conduct with Anita Hill. The Senate refused to hear 8 unimpeachable eye witnesses who actually witnessed some of Thomase’s abusinve conduct toward Professor Hill. Several of them alledgedly were also sexually harrassed by Judge creepy. They all corraborated Hill’s testimony in depossition but were not allowed to testify by the Senate (which was divided after the Bork hearings). Talking about sweeping junk under a rug! Bond’s issue pales in comparison to that. The other two known perjurers were none other than John Roberts and Samuel Alito regarding cases they judged. My point is this. If we’re not going to impeach on the record liars and perjurors on the bench and in the political process. Why are we wasting the public’s money & time on this meaningless ceremonial trial of someone who only hurt himself? And he did it in a game that is meaningless to many. If the nation is really “broke”, it needs to flush every single meaningless exercise like a Baseball trial and focus resources on creating JOBS! This entire episode is vindictive and stupid. And I’m not even a Barry Bonds fan. In fact, I’m far from it. This is just about vendetta, by our government.

  6. fatelvis77 - Mar 23, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    Juries are always engaged on the first day of trial, but since the prosecution can’t quickly and succinctly prove its case they will get bored. I see this case as a loser for the government.

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