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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Drugs in Sport: Trevor Graham case

Trevor Graham Case: Convicted of lying, but the truth remains only partially-exposed

Yesterday saw the verdict in the court case against Trevor Graham, the former Track coach who was implicated in the BALCO scandal and its subsequent perjury cases.

For those who haven't been following the news, the (very) short version of the story is that Graham, the coach of now-disgraced and imprisoned track stars Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones, was being tried on three counts of lying to federal investigators during their investigation into the now infamous BALCO scandal. If you want a quick run-down of the "Who's who" in the case, check out this site: Steroid Nation

Those three charges involved:

  • Lying to investigators about whether he had ever met an alleged "drug-dealer" (in performance enhancing drugs, that is) named Angel Heredia, in person
  • Lying to investigators when he said that he had not spoken to Heredia since 1997
  • Lying about whether he had worked together with Heredia to supply his elite athletes with banned substances

Unfortunately, the jury could only reach a decision on ONE of the THREE charges, and convicted Graham on count number 2 - lying about whether he'd spoken with Heredia since 1997.

That is, Graham alleged that he hadn't spoken to Heredia for 11 years, and then prosecutors produced phone records documenting over 100 calls made between the two.

If it seems obvious that he'd be convicted on that basis, consider that the jury, led by a man being described by some the "crazed jury foreman", failed to convict Graham of the first charge (that he had never met Heredia in person), even though the prosecution produced PICTURES of Graham and Heredia together. Apparently, that was not enough, and the jury returned a verdict of 11-1, with the foreman being the lone voice in the night.

But did Graham provide athletes with drugs? The answer we want to know

As for the one conviction that all athletics-lovers were hoping for, the one that related to Graham providing his athletes with performance-enhancing drugs, the jury went 10-2 on that one, with the Foreman again being one of those against conviction. That happened despite the fact that athletes testified at the trial (Antonio Pettigrew was one), and former athletes have all either tested positive or admitted to doping under Graham. Yet the prosecution could not PROVE its case, and so a man who has been tainted with the worst of the sport's ugly side is cleared on the most serious allegations and faces a short stint in prison, and nothing else.

And while I do not wish to advocate a "witch-hunt" (because if there is no proof, then of course the system cannot pursue a man to make him a scapegoat), the whole process delivers a long-term blow to the sport and the fight against doping, because a known "dirty" coach, a liar and a man who sits at the epicentre of all the problems in the sport today is largely cleared because of a legal system that, in my opinion, fails to work on the basis of what constitutes "Proof", and which ultimately provides a lop-sided bias towards clearing a man who athletics-lovers believe has done perhaps irreparable harm to their sport.

Tie up the loose ends first

There were, it must be noted, shaky procedures and an admittedly very suspect witness on the part of the prosecution - the problem with using "drug-dealers" like Heredia to testify is that they are inherently lacking credibility! And as pointed out in the comments section below, it is of course not ideal to pursue a man on a "witch-hunt" campaign based on evidence that does not stand up to scrutiny. So I'm all for a retrial and another attempt at hopefully tightening up the case. I guess in that regard, the prosecution must shoulder some blame for not making the thing so overpowering that there was no choice but to hang ALL the dirty laundary out!

However, that's not what this post is about - this is about the loss of opportunity to expose athletes and names of people who have dragged the sport into the mire.

These cases are always hyped as an opportunity to clean up the sport, with allegations of names and details hitting the headlines long before the witnesses hit the courtroon. Yet that has again failed to happen, and I get the uncomfortable feeling that someone (perhaps all of them) don't really want the truth to come out. It happens with regularity in the world of sports doping - Marion Jones "confesses" but doesn't fully come clean, people are indicted but never fully admit (think McNamee and Clemens - whatever came of that - big show, no action). It seems that inside the murky legal system, facts can be buried from the inside, and this Graham case is no different.

I must confess that a legal system where the clever work of some lawyers (and scientists, in some recent high profile cases in athletics) manages to create enough doubt to allow those who are known cheats (to everyone within the sport) to escape from those outside it. The only loser in all this is the sport, and Trevor Graham, and his group of merry dopers, live to dope another day.

Final word from Heredia (and a word that should worry us here in South Africa in particular), who was at the centre of the alleged provision of drugs to athletes:

"Conte was sent to jail, I don't know what is going to happen to me, but I could go to jail, too. But I can tell you, nothing is going to stop. Athletes are still going to South Africa to train; they're still doping."

And thanks to the Jury Foreman and unscrupulous defence lawyers, that prediction will be true.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I can completely agree with you guys on this one.

It seems clear that while Trevor Graham did lie to investigators about the phone calls, it's less clear that Angel Herida was telling the truth when he swore that he had personally posted the packages containing the drugs to Graham.

I wasn't at the trial, nor have I read the transcript, but the jury foreman is quoted as saying that the handwriting on the FedEx receipts for the packages appeared not to belong to Herida. If that's true, then Herida was lying under oath in Graham's trial and, perhaps even more importantly, someone else actually signed the FedEx receipts. Who was this other person - was it just Herida's girlfriend doing him a favour by signing the receipts for him, or was someone else involved? The famous reason given for not convicting an "innocent" man, who is clearly a rascal, is that it's better for one guilty man to go free than to convict the innocent. As I grow older, I have to say that I'm less concerned about the rights of a (now) convicted felon like Graham, than I am about ensuring that the investigators do their job properly and prosecute all the guilty parties involved. I believe it's essential there's a retrial for the remaining two charges, and that next time the investigators do a better job and come up with more plausible witnesses than Herida.