WASHINGTON — During another seven grueling hours of cross-examination that frustrated all sides, Roger Clemens’ accuser explained the evidence he kept in a beer can — and why his story about it has changed.
Brian McNamee was on the stand Thursday for a fourth day in the perjury trial of the seven-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher, holding firm to his testimony that he injected Clemens with steroids from 1998 to 2001 and human growth hormone in 2000.
But Clemens’ longtime strength coach again conceded that his memory of some details has evolved over the years, and that he initially told some lies during the drugs-in-baseball investigation conducted by federal agents and former Sen. George Mitchell.
Whether the jurors were still keeping track is another matter: They again expressed concern about the agonizingly slow pace of a trial that still has weeks to go, and the judge opined that Clemens’ lawyer was “confusing everybody.”
“At this pace,” U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said, “I’ll guess we’ll be here forever.”
Clemens lawyer Rusty Hardin tried to exploit McNamee’s inconsistencies, even if it meant taking the case far afield from the principal issue of whether Clemens actually used performance-enhancing drugs. The former baseball star is accused of lying when he testified to Congress in 2008 that he never used steroids or HGH.
The day’s testimony ended at a tantalizing moment. After some 19 hours on the stand, McNamee was being challenged by Hardin over the needle and other waste kept in a Miller Lite can after a steroids injection McNamee said he gave Clemens in 2001. The government is expected to show the waste contains Clemens’ DNA.
McNamee indicated to Congress in 2008 that he kept the evidence primarily because he was starting to distrust Clemens, but he told the jury earlier this week he kept it because his wife had starting nagging him to do something to protect himself from being a fall guy in case he ever got caught.
McNamee said Thursday he had hoped to keep his wife out of the story. His change of heart came as he and his wife are going through a contentious divorce.
“Now she’s involved,” McNamee said, “she’s got to take responsibility for her action.”
McNamee said the beer can came from the recycling bin in Clemens’ apartment, while conceding that he’d never seen Clemens drink a light beer. Hardin insinuated that McNamee manufactured the evidence after Clemens’ televised denials of steroids use.
“All of a sudden, the person being accused is fighting back,” Hardin said, “and you have to figure out some way to save yourself.”
Hardin’s aim is to portray McNamee as a serial liar, and he appeared to have some success this day.
“Did you ever tell Sen. Mitchell that you injected Roger Clemens approximately four times in the rear over a two-week period in 1998?” Hardin asked.
“That’s possible,” McNamee answered.
“If you did tell him … would that be a lie?” Hardin asked.
“Yes, it would,” said McNamee, who testified this week that he injected Clemens about eight to 10 times during Clemens’ 1998 season with the Toronto Blue Jays.
McNamee again maintained that he had minimized the number of shots to try to help out Clemens.
“I wanted to make it not look like he was a bigger steroids user than he was. … I never lied about the usage, just amounts,” he said.
There were several similar exchanges. Hardin also displayed a calendar to show that a 1998 pool party at former slugger Jose Canseco’s house was on a Tuesday; McNamee has always remembered it taking place on a Saturday. McNamee then went back and forth trying to place the date he gave Clemens’ wife an HGH shot at the Clemens’ home in Texas — switching from the 2003-04 offseason to the 2002-03 offseason.
“I could be confused,” McNamee said. “I’m getting handed a lot of dates.”
But it’s an open question whether the lawyer’s scattershot approach — leapfrogging from topic to topic with complex questions that evoke frequent objections from the government — will pay dividends with the jury. A serious trial that could end up sending one of baseball’s all-time greats to prison was peppered with exchanges Thursday that sounded more like a situation comedy.
There was one exchange in which Hardin wanted to know why McNamee didn’t tip off Clemens after being contacted by federal authorities. McNamee said Clemens never asked.
Hardin: “How could he ask if he didn’t know?”
McNamee: “How could I answer if he didn’t ask?”
Hardin: “You’re serious?”
At another point, when Hardin was switching topics at a fast and furious pace, McNamee turned his palms up and said: “You’re going from articles to emails — I’m trying to keep up, man.”
Later, as Hardin was trying to pin another lie on him, McNamee responded: “I’m having a problem with the ‘lie’ thing.”
Then, when explaining why he decided to cooperate with federal authorities, McNamee said: “They would have had an opportunity to lock me up for lying.” But Hardin mistook McNamee’s thick New York accent, thinking McNamee said “life” instead of “lying.” Hardin started to make a big deal of the comment until McNamee corrected him.
The sputtering pace of the trial, now in its fifth week, is taking a noticeable toll on the jury. Two members of the panel already have been dismissed for sleeping, leaving 12 jurors and two alternates. Walton emerged from a morning break and said they’ve been asking again how long the trial will last.
Walton sounded incredulous when the government responded that it had 14 more witnesses to call, which would bring its total to 26. The judge then told the jury that he expects the trial to last through at least June 8.
With the jury out of earshot, the judge said “someone’s going to pay the price” for the slow pace, but Walton said he couldn’t tell which side it would be. Then he segued into a critique of Hardin’s all-over-the-place questioning.
“It’s confusing everybody,” Walton said, “but I don’t think it’s making much of a point.”