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Barry Bonds Convicted of Obstruction of Justice

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Barry Bonds outside a federal courthouse.

Stephanie Martin: Jurors in the federal perjury trial of former Giants' slugger Barry Bonds this afternoon delivered  a unanimous guilty verdict for Bonds on one count, obstruction of justice. 

But the panel of eight women and four men was hung on each of the three other counts that Bonds lied to a federal grand jury in 2003. It's a stunning verdict with baseball's all-time home run king found guilty in a federal court trial. But it's one that caused immediate confusion. Here's how the verdict was announced on ESPN radio:

ESPN Radio:

ESPN Anchor: And he will be…guilty of obstruction of justice. The least severe. So all this and nothing?

Pepperdine law professor, and ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack: Well to be honest with  you I find that absolutely incredible because he's not guilty on perjury, so how can he be guilty on obstruction of justice?

Martin: That second voice was Roger Cossack, a professor at Pepperdine University. We're joined now by Professor Andrea Russi a former federal prosecutor who is on the faculty at U.C. Berkeley's School of Law.

Russi, explain this to us. How is it that a jury can be so sure that Bonds obstructed justice, but can't make up its mind about the perjury charges? Doesn't obstruction mean providing intentionally evasive, false or misleading testimony?

Russi: It does, so the obstruction charge here referred basically the same conduct as the perjury charge, but it also included evasive and misleading testimony. So, what one possibility would be that the jury felt the prosecution had not proved that Bonds lied or committed perjury beyond a reasonable doubt. But that he had acted in some sort of evasive or misleading way, that wasn't quite lying.

Martin: Do you see this very often?

Russi: No, I think this is fairly unusual. Given the obstruction charges, basically based upon the charges to lying to the grand jury it's surprising to me that he would be convicted of obstruction and not perjury.

Martin: So on this one obstruction of justice count what's the likelihood that Bonds will serve time?

Russi: Well, the federal statute he was convicted under allows him to be sentenced for up to 10 years. But I think it's unlikely he would receive that high of a sentence that the sentencing guidelines, the recommendations to judges, would recommend 15 to 21 months on the obstruction charge.

Martin: Now prosecutors say they will decide to whether to seek a retrial on the reaming counts as soon as possible. What consideration do they need to take into account before making that decision?

Russi: Well, when a case results in a hung jury, both the prosecution and the defense will have a chance to talk to the jurors and find out what the problem was. That would be a consideration for going forward with a retrial. Also, just whether it's the best use of government resources to try this case again given they did get a conviction on one of the counts.

Martin: When is obstruction of justice typically brought up as a charge, and what are the conditions generally that cause a jury to convict on that charge?

Russi: Obstruction of justice  can be brought for any conduct that interferes with a grand jury investigation, so in a case like this that conduct can be lying to the grand jury and committing perjury. It can also be things like intimidating a witness or simply being uncooperative or evasive. When the government brings perjury charges they also usually bring obstruction of justice charges. And as they are in this case, they are usually fairly closely linked. It's the conduct for both charges. But as I said I think that the jury could have found Bond was evasive and uncooperative but not been able to agree that he actually lied or provided false testimony.

Martin: Which is exactly what the jury said afterward.

Russi: Which is a little surprising in this case, it's surprising to make the distinction between the two.

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