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Barry Bonds' attorney urges judge to overturn his felony conviction

Photo: Former baseball player Barry Bonds leaving federal court in San Francisco on Thursday. Credit: Noah Berger / Associated Press A lawyer for  slugger Barry Bonds urged a federal judge Thursday to overturn his felony conviction for obstruction of justice, arguing that a “non-responsive answer to a jury question that lasts 75 seconds” should not be a federal crime.

But a federal prosecutor insisted that it takes only “a second to tell a lie” and urged U.S. District Judge Susan Illston to uphold the conviction. Illston did not reveal her leanings, saying only that she would issue a written ruling on whether the conviction should be dismissed or retried.

A jury convicted Bonds of obstruction in April  after finding he gave an evasive or misleading answer during an appearance before a federal grand jury in 2003. But the trial jury deadlocked  on perjury charges, voting 11 to 1 to convict on one and leaning in favor of acquittal on the others.

Bonds’  single conviction for obstruction came as a result of a rambling answer the former San Francisco Giant gave the grand jury  when asked whether  his trainer ever gave him a substance that required a syringe.

After digressing about his childhood and the nature of his friendship with his trainer, Bonds eventually said the trainer had never injected him.  Dennis Riordan, a lawyer for Bonds, argued that no court has ever upheld a conviction for a “non-responsive answer,” especially when the person eventually answered the question directly.

Assistant U.S. Attorney  Merry Jean Chan countered that the obstruction conviction was warranted if Bonds gave intentionally evasive, misleading or false testimony, and “all three theories were supported by the evidence.”

“He was specifically asked a very specific question that mandated a yes or no answer,” Chan said. “He could have said yes or no.”

Federal prosecutors have not yet revealed whether they intend to retry Bonds on the perjury charges, which stemmed from the grand jury’s probe of illegal distribution of performance enhancing drugs to elite athletes.

Illston did not indicate when she would rule.

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--Maura Dolan in San Francisco

Photo: Former baseball player Barry Bonds leaves federal court in San Francisco on Thursday. Credit: Noah Berger/Associated Press

 
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