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Bonds sentenced to probation, not jail time

SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds has been sentenced to two years' probation and 30 days' house arrest for his conviction on one count of obstruction of justice, but he walked out of court a free man on Friday while an appeal of that conviction begins.

In a hearing held in the same courtroom at which Bonds' three-week trial took place in April, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston imposed the sentencing, agreeing with a presentencing report that Bonds should be placed on probation and serve 30 days of location monitoring, provide 250 hours of youth-related community service and pay a $4,000 fine and a $100 assessment fee.

Illston ruled that the sentence will be stayed while Bonds appeals the conviction. Bonds will be free on bail during the appeal process, which the defense estimated could take close to 18 months.

A seven-time Most Valuable Player who set the single-season and career home run records during his 22-year career, Bonds was convicted of obstruction, but the jury could not come to a consensus on any of three counts of making false declarations in a trial that concluded on April 13. The charges are based on Bonds' 2003 testimony before the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) grand jury, in which he denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.

Leaving the courthouse after Friday's hearing, Bonds was besieged by media and fans between the door and his awaiting black SUV, only smiling and saying "Thank you" to one of the well-wishers who mingled with the media throng before San Francisco police officers pushed aside some of the people gathered to create an opening to Bonds' car door.

Bonds arrived in the courtroom for his sentencing hearing moments before its scheduled 11 a.m. PT start, with his mother and his aunt among those seated in the gallery. Wearing a dark charcoal suit and light beige shirt, Bonds chatted and smiled with his defense team while awaiting the arrival of Illston.

Prior to the sentencing hearing, Illston received written arguments from the defense and the prosecution after a federal probation report recommended probation, location monitoring and community service for Bonds. She asked Bonds whether he had read the Presentencing Report, prepared by federal probation official James M. Schloetter, and Bonds responded, "Yes."

Illston indicated early in the proceedings where she was headed with her sentencing as she went through major points of the report.

"I'll tell you right now, I intend to abide by what Mr. Schloetter has recommended," Illston said.

As Illston pointed out, the report said the sentence should not be about steroid use but about the crime for which he was convicted. Also, Bonds' history of civic and charitable works beyond the public eye should be taken into account, and the crime for which he is convicted should be considered an aberration in relation to the rest of Bonds' life.

The defense, led by attorney Allen Ruby, had agreed with the probation report that Bonds should serve no jail time and did not make further comment when given the opportunity in the hearing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Parrella, representing the prosecution, did make an argument to Illston that Bonds should be given 15 months in prison for his crime, which Parrella said "strikes at the core of our system." He added that Bonds engaged in "years of performance-enhancing drug use, steroid use and lying about it in the media and to others, and he made an awful lot of money as a result."

Parrella pleaded the case that Bonds being evasive before the grand jury was not an aberration in that he had lied about using performance-enhancing substances and amphetamines prior to the testimony and that he had a history of lying through extramarital affairs.

"He wasn't on trial for that," Illston responded to the latter charge.

Illston, who has presided over many cases brought by the BALCO investigation, previously sentenced cyclist Tammy Thomas to six months of home confinement and track coach Trevor Graham to one year of home confinement. Thomas was convicted of three counts of making false statements and one count of obstructing justice but was acquitted of two perjury charges. Graham was convicted of one count of giving false statements, and the jury deadlocked on two other charges.

Parrella argued that Bonds should be held more against the example of former track and basketball star Marion Jones, who was given six months in prison for lying to federal investigators about her use of steroids. He called a $4,000 fine "laughable" for someone of Bonds' wealth and said 30 days' confinement in a 15,000-square-foot home was a "slap on the wrist."

In the end, Illston stuck closer to her own history and the recommendation of the PSR to hand down a sentence that won't be served unless Bonds loses his appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

So now, what is being described as the final act of the BALCO saga is moving to a new phase. If the appeal overturns the conviction, Bonds could be acquitted or a new trial on the obstruction count could be ordered. Government attorneys dismissed the three counts of giving false statements after the trial, and they technically have two more months to reverse that and retry Bonds on those counts, but that is not expected.

Bonds' attorneys met with the media outside the courthouse, but government attorneys have yet to make a public statement about the sentencing.

Attorney Dennis Riordan, a respected appellate attorney who will handle this phase of Bonds' legal ordeal, estimated the appeal could take about the same amount of time as the 17-month appeal process that preceded the trial. He enters the process with confidence.

"We absolutely believe that Barry was wrongly convicted of a felony offense," Riordan said. "At this moment, he is branded as a felon."

Riordan added that no obstruction charge has ever been upheld based on the facts in this case, adding that he had been doing appeals before the Ninth Circuit for 30 years and this is "certainly as powerful an appeal as I've had in that time."

Barry Bonds