Mar 29, 2011, 8:20 AM EDT
Yesterday was oversharing time at the Barry Bonds trial with the witness who, if Greg Anderson had testified, may never have been called: Bonds’ ex-girlfriend Kimberly Bell. She testified that Bonds admitted to steroid use prior to his grand jury testimony and, as promised, provided all manner of intimate detail about the life and sexual times of Barry Bonds.
Bell, who met Bonds in 1994, said that Bonds started taking steroids because he noted that they worked for guys like Mark McGwire. As far as motives go, this matches up pretty well with what we learned in “Game of Shadows”: a late 1990s realization that, despite all Bonds had accomplished at that point in his baseball career — and they were likely Hall of Fame accomplishments already — he wanted more.
But Bell wasn’t called to talk about Bonds’ lust for glory. She was called to to talk turkey about Bonds’ physical and mental state. And that she did, testifying that Bonds suffered from shrunken testicles, acne, bloating, hair loss and impotence, all of which can be symptoms of steroid use. She said he was “aggressive, irritable, agitated and very impatient,” and said that he had once threatened to cut her head off, cut out her breast implants and to burn her friggin’ house down.
For as salacious as this all was, it wasn’t new: Bell had talked about most of this stuff in an article that accompanied her Playboy photo spread in 2007, and as the defense’s cross examination of Bell revealed, she had on several occasions tried to sell her story to book publishers and filmmakers. Which doesn’t make her testimony false, of course, but could certainly undermine her credibility. Juries care about the motivation of witnesses. Indeed, they may do so too much at times, overlooking undisputed facts to which they testified and fixating on the question of witness bias, real or imagined.
More importantly, I question whether Bell’s most critical testimony — that Bonds told her prior to 2003 that he took steroids — is enough to convince the jury that Bonds perjured himself on the point.* As I’ve noted time and again, the questions put to Bonds before the grand jury of the general “did you ever take steroids” variety were vague and open or, conversely, were often premised on multiple sub-questions relating to specific drugs, specific times and places, etc. It’s possible, therefore, that a jury could conclude that, say, Bonds did take steroids in 1999, but did not lie about taking Whateveriztol 323 via injection from Greg Anderson in October 2001.
Of the several reports I’ve read from yesterday’s testimony, I see nothing which suggests that Bell got into the kind of detail necessary to completely nail down the entirety of the perjury allegations. But she certainly nailed the “Barry Bonds is a gigantic ass” theme which the prosecution has been itching to inject in this trial. A theme that — like a witness’ motivation — is something to which juries often respond, even if it’s totally beside the point in light of the particular charges against the defendant. Bonds is not on trial for being an awful person. He’s on trial for lying to a grand jury, and the bulk of Bell’s testimony had little to do with that.
All of that said: if Bell is believed beyond a reasonable doubt, it may be enough to prompt the jury to convict him. That’s a big if, though, and there is still a lot of trial left.
*As is always the case with my opinions about the overarching effectiveness of any testimony in this trial, I offer the disclaimer that I wasn’t in court and am basing this on multiple news accounts of the testimony. How things actually played before the jury in real time may lead to a dramatically different conclusion.
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