Teammate Testifies Against Clemens In Perjury Trial

May 1, 2012
Originally published on May 9, 2012 10:44 am

If the prosecution at the Roger Clemens perjury trial hoped for a dramatic showdown on Tuesday, the day was a big disappointment. The prosecution's star witness, Clemens' friend and onetime pitching ace Andy Pettitte, provided as much, if not more, ammunition for the defense.

Clemens is charged with lying to Congress when he testified that he had never used performance-enhancing drugs.

Pettitte testified, as he has before, that in 1999 or 2000, when the two men were working out at Clemens' home gym in Texas, Clemens "mentioned" that he had taken human growth hormone and that the drug helped with recovery from injury. Clemens has said repeatedly that Pettitte must have misunderstood him.

The tenuousness of Pettitte's recollection was underscored during Tuesday's cross-examination. Questioned by defense lawyer Michael Attanasio, Pettitte acknowledged that the remark he heard was not during what the defense lawyer called a "focused conversation," but more in passing during an intense workout. Were both Clemens and Pettitte "huffing and puffing?" the defense lawyer asked. "Yes," said Pettitte.

During the prosecution's questioning, Pettitte said the only other conversation the two men had about HGH was in 2005 when a House committee was holding hearings investigating the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Pettitte and Clemens were then at spring training, both playing for the Houston Astros, and Pettitte said he was concerned that reporters would ask him if he ever had used performance-enhancing drugs. He had in fact been injected with HGH after two separate injuries, and he said that when he asked Clemens what he was going to do if approached by the media, Clemens replied, "What are you talking about?" Clemens then told Pettitte he must have misunderstood their earlier conversation, that it was Mrs. Clemens who had used HGH.

"Obviously I was a little flustered because I thought that he told me that he did," said Pettitte.

For all his discomfort, Pettitte seemed looser when questioned by the defense, extolling Clemens' unsurpassed work ethic, rigorous training and devotion to studying the habits of his adversaries at the plate, and even the "strike zone" called by different umpires. Pettitte said he continues to be Clemens' friend, though he acknowledged the two men have been instructed not to talk while the Clemens case is in progress.

The defense even managed to use the cross-examination to point out Clemens' nearly unsurpassed pitching skills — including a record seven Cy Young awards, three of them after, even in the prosecution's telling, Clemens stopped using HGH.

Defense lawyer Attanasio noted that Clemens has always been what he called "country big," as opposed to "weight-room big." You trained and played with Clemens thousands of times, the defense lawyer said to Pettitte. "Was there ever one moment that you looked at that man, dressed or undressed, and said, 'He's doing something funny'?" meaning that he is using performance-enhancing drugs. "No," replied Pettitte.

Clemens and Pettitte first became teammates in 1999, when they were both starting pitchers for the New York Yankees. They played nine seasons together, six in New York and three with the Houston Astros, before Clemens retired as a Yankee after the 2007 season. Pettitte, who is 39 years old, is attempting to come out of retirement and pitch for the Yankees this season.

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Just as several Murdoch executives are accused of misleading Parliament, pitching great Roger Clemens sat in U.S. federal court today accused of lying to Congress. At issue is his alleged use of steroids and human growth hormone. And today, the government brought a key witness to help make its case, former Clemens teammate and friend, longtime Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte.

NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg was at the courthouse and joins us now. And, Nina, first, Pettitte was supposed to be a star witness for the prosecution because Clemens was his mentor, his friend, the two men worked out together at their homes in Texas. What did Andy Pettitte have to say?

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Well, he looked really kind of miserable on the witness stand today. He said what he said before, that in 1999 or 2000, when he and Clemens were working out together at Clemens' home gym, that Clemens mentioned to him that he'd taken HGH, human growth hormone, and that it can help with recovery time. Prosecutor Steven Durham asked: Did you know what that was? Answer: No. Pettitte said that he then went to ask trainer Brian McNamee about it.

SIEGEL: Ah. Brian McNamee, trainer and the prosecution's main witness. You have to remind us of his role in the story and what he says happened.

TOTENBERG: Well, he's the guy who said he injected Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs and provided physical evidence. And because McNamee has a lot of credibility problems, Pettitte, who doesn't, is viewed as a valuable corroborating witness. He's admitted using HGH and did so again on the witness stand today. He said he was injected four times in 2002 and that he injected himself in 2004 four times, both times after he suffered injuries. And he said he didn't think the drug helped him either time.

SIEGEL: Now, Andy Pettitte also said that there was a second time when he and Roger Clemens discussed using HGH, and this was, he said, in 2005 when the House of Representatives was conducting its investigation.

TOTENBERG: Well, Pettitte and Clemens were at spring training at that time in Florida; both were then playing for the Houston Astros. And Pettitte was worried that the reporters there would ask him whether he had ever used HGH. So he went to Clemens and asked him what he was going to say if he was approached by the media.

And according to Pettitte, Clemens said: What are you talking about? And when Pettitte said: Well, you told me you used HGH, Clemens said: No, I didn't. I told you that my wife, Debbie, had used it.

SIEGEL: Now, Andy Pettitte again was a prosecution witness. Tell us about the cross examination of Pettitte.

TOTENBERG: Well, I thought it went a lot better for Clemens than one might have thought. Pettitte seemed to loosen up a bit. Roger Clemens is my friend, he said; he was my friend before and he'll be my friend afterwards. He said that Clemens was the best pitcher he'd ever seen, that he was unparalleled in his work ethic, in his dedicated training, in his studying not only of the hitters he'd be facing but even the umpires.

Defense lawyer Michael Attanasio noted that Clemens has always been what he referred to as "country big." So the defense lawyer asked Pettitte: You trained and played with this guy thousands of times. Was there ever one moment when you looked at that man - dressed or undressed - and said, he's doing something funny, meaning, taking performance-enhancing drugs. No, Pettitte replied.

SIEGEL: What about that conversation that Pettitte said he remembered from either 1999 or 2000 about HGH?

TOTENBERG: Well, the defense lawyer asked Pettitte, this wasn't some sort of sit-down the two of you had. Weren't the two of you huffing and puffing in a very intense workout? And Pettitte acknowledge that they were. And the defense lawyer even managed to wedge in that even after Clemens is supposed to have stopped using HGH, he won three Cy Young Awards.

SIEGEL: And, Nina, Andy Pettitte's back on the witness stand tomorrow to wrap up. But let me ask you, as an observer, what did you think of today's testimony?

TOTENBERG: Well, if the prosecution wanted a big dramatic moment, it didn't get it. And the defense, I thought, had a better day.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Nina.

TOTENBERG: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.