Clemens, in court, tells judge: ‘Not guilty’

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Roger Clemens put his right hand on the lectern, leaned down toward the microphone and made what might be the most important pitch of his life: “Not guilty, your honor.”

Those words, uttered Monday in a strong, confident voice by the seven-time Cy Young Award winner sporting a black blazer and blond highlights in his hair, marked the official beginning of a court case that could taint baseball even further and land the “Rocket” in jail.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton presided over an arraignment hearing that lasted less than 14 minutes in the ceremonial courtroom at the federal courthouse, across the street from the Capitol.

Walton set April 5 as the start of jury selection _ the Monday of the first full week of the 2011 baseball season, and also around the time a case involving Barry Bonds, the all-time home run king, could be wrapping up in San Francisco.

Pete Rose, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Denny McLain are among former baseball stars to have spent time in jail. Clemens and Bonds, who chased history on the field throughout their careers, now could be chasing history off it.

They are both in jeopardy of becoming the first baseball star jailed because of a conviction related to the performance-enhancing-drug imbroglio that has sullied their sport for much of the past 15 years.

If convicted of six counts _ three of making false statements, two of perjury and one of obstruction of Congress _ Clemens could face up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine, although 15 to 21 months is the more likely sentence under federal guidelines.

As he has throughout the process, Clemens again fought any suggestion that he cheated during a 23-season career that ended with 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts. He won his first three Cy Young awards in 1986, ‘87 and ‘91, dipped ever so slightly, then won four more in 1997, ‘98, 2001 and 2004, at the age of 42.

On Monday, he was in Washington because of testimony he gave to Congress in 2008. He went before a House committee to clear his name after becoming a prominent figure in the Mitchell Report, which came out the year before with an unflinching account of baseball’s drug crisis.

Back then, Clemens testified: “Let me be clear. I have never taken steroids or HGH.”

This time, his words were fewer but every bit as forceful. And his actions spoke of a man who refused to let a court appearance ruin his day.

He arrived at the courthouse four hours early to go through fingerprinting and paperwork that is often left for after the official work in court is complete.

Clemens apparently was trying to get to North Carolina in time to play in the first round of a weeklong amateur golf tournament. He arrived at The Pearl golf course in Calabash, N.C., shortly after 5 p.m. and shot a 12-over 84, matching wife Debbie’s first-day score.

Clemens declined to answer questions about his court appearance, but did thank tournament organizers for allowing him to compete in the event under the circumstances.

After going through processing early in the day, Clemens and his team of lawyers _ led by Rusty Hardin of Houston _ ate in the main cafeteria.

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