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Roger Clemens’ fate rests with jurors

By Ian Duncan, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — Lawyers in the Roger Clemens perjury trial used their closing arguments to conjure two parallel universes: the defense’s inhabited by a man they cast as an inveterate liar, Brian McNamee; the prosecution’s, by Clemens, who they described as a serial deceiver.

Drawn to a close in its ninth week, the trial stands pretty much where it always stood. McNamee, a former strength trainer, says he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone, Clemens said he did not. Clemens took his denial to the House of Representatives, where the government argues, he lied under oath.

“He intentionally lied,” prosecutor Gilberto Guerrero Jr. told the jury. “Now it’s your turn to hold him accountable.”

Clemens lawyer Michael Attanasio turned the accusation back on McNamee.

“We have a man who took the stand, looked you in the eye, and lied,” he said.

The jury began deliberations late Tuesday, weighing the evidence for about 15 minutes before being dismissed for the day. Jurors will be back Wednesday afternoon to decide whether to believe McNamee or Clemens.

Despite the he-said-she-said nature of the case, the government had the harder mountain to climb because of its burden of proof. And McNamee is not a sure-footed Sherpa — swamped in too-big suits, he seemed to change his story on the stand under pressure from lead Clemens attorney Rusty Hardin during a punishing four-day cross-examination.

Wrapping up the defense’s closing argument, Hardin zeroed in on the credibility of the former trainer.

There is “not one blankety-blank piece of evidence” not tied to McNamee, he said.

Reminding the jury that the burden of proof lies with the government, Attanasio pointed to the prosecution’s fruitless search to find other solid evidence of Clemens’s drug use.

“Brian McNamee defines reasonable doubt standing up there on his own,” he said. “If Brian McNamee told you something in one of the graver matters of your life, would you take that to the bank?”

Rebutting the defense’s argument, prosecutor Courtney Saleski tried to prop up McNamee, listing nine ways his evidence is corroborated. Perhaps the two most important of those — physical evidence McNamee supplied and testimony from former Clemens teammate Andy Pettitte — have significant limitations.

Cotton balls McNamee said he saved after injecting Clemens in 2001 contained the pitcher’s DNA, but a needle McNamee said he also used came back as only a partial match and cannot be definitively tied to Clemens.

And in an early coup for the defense, Pettitte admitted under cross-examination that his confidence in his memory of a conversation in 1999 or 2000 in which he thought Clemens told him about using HGH was only 50-50.

Prosecutor Guerrero said Clemens’ remarks to Pettitte amounted to a confession. Attanasio brushed that suggestion aside, noting that the comments were made in passing during a strenuous workout.

The courtroom was packed as the lawyers made their final appeals and Clemens’s wife Debbie and his four sons watched the arguments from the second row. Pointing to them, Hardin said, “That’s what got him through this.”

For his part, Clemens appeared at ease. During the lunch break Clemens ate a salad at a table with his sons in the cafeteria and chatted with court staff.

Still, Hardin said that for the last four-and-a-half years Clemens had been subjected to a campaign designed to “grind him into the dust.”

“Find this man not guilty,” he said. “Let him start his life again. Please.”

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