The moment of truth has arrived for Roger Clemens.
The former Yankee superstar's trial on charges of lying to Congress about using performance-enhancing drugs is to begin this week in federal court in Washington. And it promises to be a long, highly charged event, with Clemens facing off against his former trainer, Brian McNamee, and his old teammate and friend, Andy Pettitte, a beloved former Yankee pitcher.
Clemens, 49, has staked his legacy and freedom on the outcome. If he's acquitted, he can claim a measure of vindication and perhaps salvage his chances of induction into baseball's Hall of Fame. If he loses, he could go to prison and be forever associated with one of baseball's darkest scandals.
Clemens' future will turn on whom a jury will believe: McNamee, who has said under oath he injected Clemens multiple times with steroids and a banned synthetic human growth hormone, and Pettitte, who says Clemens once told him of his HGH use; or Clemens, who has steadfastly denied the accusations.
"I have never used steroids, human growth hormone or any other type of illegal, performance-enhancing drugs," Clemens testified at a 2008 Congressional hearing.
Anthony S. Barkow, executive director of the New York University Law School's Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, said federal prosecutors have a good record of winning trials.
"However, things are little different here because perjury cases are difficult to prove because it's not just about the statements. It's that he knowingly testified," Barkow said.
For Major League Baseball, the trial again dredges up embarrassing details from its so-called steroids era. It comes three months after a jury in San Francisco found another baseball superstar, Barry Bonds, guilty of obstruction of justice in a separate steroids probe. But the jury could not reach unanimous verdicts on three counts of perjury about his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Clemens has disputed McNamee's account since the former Clemens trainer first came forward with the detailed allegations as part of former Sen. George Mitchell's December 2007 report on performance-enhancing drug use in baseball. The report by Mitchell, who has said he expects to be called as a witness, rocked the sports world, accusing 89 players of using such substances and faulting baseball's testing policies for allowing its spread.
Clemens says McNamee, his trainer from 1998 until 2007, only injected him with lidocaine, an anesthetic, and the vitamin B-12. McNamee, in his sworn testimony, denied that.
A jury also will likely be told of McNamee's admission that he lied to police during a 2001 sexual assault investigation in Florida. McNamee was not charged.
Further, McNamee's story has changed at least twice, beginning with his repeated denials in newspaper stories over the years that Clemens had ever used performance-enhancing drugs.
McNamee has since said he was simply lying on behalf of his friend and employer and that he came forward with the truth only because he was compelled by authorities to do so. Faced with the threat of being charged with illegal steroid distribution during the summer of 2007, McNamee was granted immunity as long as he gave federal investigators truthful answers.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton issued a gag order several months ago preventing Clemens, McNamee and the case's lawyers from commenting publicly on the case.
McNamee's credibility could hinge on Pettitte. McNamee also stated in Mitchell's report that he had injected Pettitte with HGH, and the lefthanded pitcher confirmed the account the next day.
Pettitte delivered another bombshell at the 2008 congressional hearing, submitting an affidavit in which he detailed a conversation in 1999 or 2000 in which he said Clemens admitted to him having used HGH. Pettitte's wife, Laura, said in a separate affidavit that Pettitte told her about that conversation.
That sets the stage for Pettitte to act as a star witness against his former friend, Clemens.
"I don't even think of Andy Pettitte as the wild card in this case," said Anthony Sabino, a law professor at St. John's University. "I think of him as, if not the ace up the sleeve of the government, then he's the king, in terms of playing cards."
McNamee also handed over vials, syringes and gauze pads that he said were used to inject Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs. McNamee said he had stored those items in the basement of his Breezy Point home since 2001. They were tested for Clemens' DNA and for traces of performance-enhancing drugs, according to published reports, in preparation for use as evidence in the trial.