Jury sees 'beer can' evidence in Clemens trial

Associated Press Modified: May 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm •  Published: May 3, 2012
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Exhibit 52C was the semi-crushed Miller Lite beer can. Exhibit 52D was the FedEx box that once contained the beer can. Then came exhibits of gauze, tissues, syringes, cotton balls and needles, some of which were once inside the beer can, using up letters of the alphabet all the way to X.

For the first time Thursday, the jury in the Roger Clemens trial saw in person the physical evidence the government says will link the 11-time All-Star baseball pitcher to anabolic steroids, evidence that Clemens' lawyer has called a "mixed-up hodgepodge of garbage."

The items were presented on Day 10 of the retrial on charges that Clemens committed perjury when he told Congress in 2008 that he had never taken steroids or human growth hormone. The first trial last July ended in a mistrial.

Prosecutors presented the items methodically during the testimony of federal agent Jeff Novitzky, an imposing figure with a shaved head who has an engaging presence on the stand. Jurors who had appeared well beyond boredom earlier in the trial were sitting up and attentive, taking notes while Novitzky related how he received the items from Clemens' former strength coach, Brian McNamee, on Jan. 10, 2008.

McNamee, who is expected to take the stand next week as the government's key witness, has said he injected Clemens with both steroids and HGH. He said in a 2008 congressional deposition that he decided to hang on to the needle, gauze and associated material after injecting Clemens with the steroid Sustanon 250 at Clemens' apartment in 2001 — part of a "gut feeling" he had because he didn't fully trust Clemens.

He said he put the items in the beer can — which he said came from Clemens' recycling bin — because it was a relatively safe way to carry or dispose of a needle without it accidentally stabbing someone. Clemens was pitching for the New York Yankees at the time.

Novitzky has spearheaded other drugs-in-sports investigations — including those of baseball's Barry Bonds and star cyclist Lance Armstrong — first while working for the Internal Revenue Service and now at the Food and Drug Administration.

On the stand, he didn't directly connect the physical evidence to Clemens — that connection is expected to happen when the government presents results from a DNA analysis of the material. Clemens' lawyers have said they will contend that the evidence has been tainted and contaminated because it was stored so haphazardly.

When it came time for cross-examination, it was a battle of titans: the Texas charm of Clemens lawyer Rusty Hardin trying to work his magic against a special agent who wasn't about to waver. Their battle of semantics was riveting, with Novitzky not giving an inch unless the question was phrased in just the right way.

Hardin had to ask several times before he finally got Novitzky to concede that the agent had no firsthand knowledge of the chain of custody of the beer can and associated pieces of evidence before receiving them from McNamee. Even the judge chimed in with a question to make that point clear.