- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - After years of investigation, three weeks of trial and millions of dollars spent pursuing Barry Bonds, federal prosecutors were back where they started Thursday _ deciding whether to try and prove the home run king’s records were built with steroids and lies.

On Wednesday, the jury that was to finally decide whether Bonds deceived a grand jury in 2003 when he denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs instead left the issue deeply unresolved.

The panel of eight women and four men convicted Bonds of obstructing justice, but deadlocked on the three charges at the heart of the government’s perjury case, including two counts of lying about the use of steroids and human growth hormone. U.S. District Judge Susan Illston declared a mistrial on those three charges.

Now, prosecutors must weigh whether to spend still more money, and staff time, conducting another trial. They typically take into account a hung jury’s vote when making such a call, but legal analysts warn that the Bonds trial was very different from the typical criminal case and the usual practices don’t apply to such a high-profile defendant.

What’s more, the jury’s vote on the deadlocked counts were inconsistent. A majority of jurors voted to acquit Bonds on the drug-related charges while voting 11-1 to convict him of lying about never receiving injections from anyone but his doctor.

Further, the judge who would preside over the new trial has been showing impatience with a case that reaches back to Dec. 4, 2003. That’s the day Bonds testified before a grand jury investigating an international sports doping ring centered at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, also known as BALCO.

Amid the confusion and frustration of Wednesday’s muddled verdict, Illston sharply cut off Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Parrella’s argument that the government need not decide immediately about a new trial.

“The trial is over and we don’t need any more speeches,” she said. It wasn’t the first time she displayed displeasure with the prosecution during the trial _ and the more than three years Bonds has been under indictment.

But the judge did agree that prosecutors could decide later about a new trial. She set a May 20 hearing to discuss that issue and to schedule a sentencing date for Bonds.

An obvious calculation will be whether it’s worth the effort.

Vermont Law School Professor Michael McCann and others who followed the trial said it’s impossible to put an exact dollar figure on the government’s expenditure in pursuit of Bonds. The government doesn’t do its accounting on a per-defendant basis. Still, it’s clear the figure is substantial, he said.

“The government has spent millions of dollars and hours and is being questioned over whether that time and money could have been better spent elsewhere,” said McCann, who specializes in sports law. “There’s also a fatigue factor setting in.”

Indeed, outside pressure is mounting. Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia recently questioned at a congressional hearing whether top BALCO investigator Jeff Novitzky was motivated by trying to bring down a celebrity.

“What bothers me is that you’ve got a very powerful federal government that has the money and time and resources to ruin someone’s reputation,” Kingston told The Associated Press after the verdict. “Why did it take eight years to get to this point on Barry Bonds? And with all the problems we’ve got, why are we sitting here at the end of an eight-year investigation?”

Analysts and observers are split over the wisdom of a retrial, with U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag only saying in a written statement that a decision would be made as soon as possible.

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