By Stephanie Rice
SAN FRANCISCO, March 21, 2011 (AFP) – Finding San Francisco area residents who lack strong opinions of their World Series champions and their former star player proved no easy task Monday in jury selection for the Barry Bonds trial.
It took roughly six hours for a federal judge and lawyers to find the 12 jurors and two alternates who will decide if the US baseball home run king lied to a 2003 grand jury when he denied knowingly using steroids.
Some three dozen potential jurors were excused from the initial pool of about 100 before screening began, either because of hardship or prejudice, some after confessing a love of the San Francisco Giants and their ex-slugger Bonds.
By the end of the day, four men and eight women had been empaneled for the perjury trial, which is expected to take about four weeks and so will likely be ongoing when the Major League Baseball season begins March 31.
The chosen jurors, whose names are being withheld until after the trial, include a paralegal studies student, an autism specialist and phlebotomist.
They seemingly have little opinion of Bonds, the San Francisco Giants or organized sports.
But it was clear, both from remarks made in court and answers given to written questionnaires, that many in the initial jury pool harbored strong feelings about Bonds.
“I would be reluctant to render a judgment against a great athlete like Mr. Bonds, so that may cloud my judgment,” a 61-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran told U.S. District Judge Susan Illston.
“Anybody who steps up the plate and the entire stadium cheers, thatâ€™s something to look up to,” another man said.
In questioning potential jurors, defense attorney Cris Arguedas acknowledged the impossibility of finding jurors who were unaware of the high-profile case.
â€œThere are very few people here that are a blank slate because this case has gotten so much publicity. We accept that,â€ Arguedas said.
â€œBarry Bonds and the press have not gotten along very well over the years, so most of the press has been bad. We accept that.â€
While most said they thought they could be unbiased, many potential jurors also expressed deep disappointment in the steroids scandal that has tarnished the reputation of US sports stars, especially in the American pastime.
â€œI saw Barry hit his 500th homer in person, which beat the (arch-rival Los Angeles) Dodgers,â€ wrote a 43-year-old woman who manages a health insurance newsletter. â€œI used to love to watch him play because he was a game changer. But Iâ€™m disappointed that he took steroids and lied about it.â€
A 42-year-old elementary school teacher wrote that professional athletes using banned drugs set a bad example for children.
A minority of potential jurors were staunch Giants fans or questioned whether there should even be a trial.
â€œHe is guilty of steroid use. He lied. He has suffered enough,â€ said a 61-year-old attorney with a teachers union. â€œThere should have been some sort of settlement.â€
The atmosphere outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco was subdued in the minutes before long-awaited trial began.
Bonds arrived at the front entrance with his attorneys at 7:50 a.m. in a black utility vehicle.
He was greeted by small group of reporters and one protester, wearing a T-shirt that read: â€œIf Barry goes to jail then baseball can go to hell.â€
Wearing a black suit and silvery-blue tie, Bonds paused and glanced over at reporters but did not respond to questions.
Monday was day one in a trial that is largely seen as the culmination of a nearly decade-long, multimillion-dollar effort to crack down on drug cheats in professional sports.
Bonds, 46, has pleaded not guilty to four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice. The trial continues on Tuesday with opening arguments.