The issue of Petitte's credibility—and the way it was to be presented to jurors—first came up on Wednesday during opening statements when prosecutors made an inappropriate statement about such evidence. They were promptly scolded by the judge. And yet, one day later, prosecutors inexplicably showed jurors the videotape anyway without redacting the portion that mentioned Laura Petitte. This prompted a visibly angry judge to say in open court "we can't unring this bell" now that the jury has seen important information it was not supposed to see. "Government counsel can't do what it thinks it can get away with," Judge Walton said. "Any first year law student should know that."
For purposes of the Sixth Amendment anyway, it doesn't really matter whether federal lawyers intentionally refused to clean up their evidence ("Leave it in, maybe no one will notice") or whether it was just a stupid mistake or oversight by a member of the prosecution team. ("Wait, I thought you were going to redact the video!") Either way, Clemens' fair trial rights were violated and the judge felt compelled to act. Mistrials may be rare but they occur often in circumstances like this, where a judge believes the jury has been shown information that it wasn't meant to see and may materially influence the outcome of the trial.
Do you get the feeling that someone's head is going to roll for this at the Justice Department? I do. The feds already had come under significant criticism from many corners of the legal, political, and sporting worlds for devoting time, energy, and money prosecuting the popular athlete for allegedly lying about a performance-enhancing drug. And the Justice Department had largely answer that criticism by reminding people that lying under oath is no small matter under the rule of law. But the feds couldn't even get their case-in-chief beyond the second day of trial testimony before screwing it all up. It's no small matter either, Judge Walton reminded prosecutors Thursday by ending their case, to blow off a judge's pre-trial evidentiary rulings.
Indeed, this is a colossal and embarrassing result for the Justice Department. The feds had the stronger hand in the case and every reason to believe they would have gotten their conviction against Clemens even without the extralegal bolstering of Petitte's testimony. I mean, so pure is his reputation, I half-expected Petitte to come into the courtroom with a halo over his head. In fact, of the two main government witnesses, it was the other guy, former Clemens' trainer Brian McNamee, whose credibility and reliability may have needed a boost. So not only was this mistake costly for the Justice Department, it was also unnecessary. And I wouldn't be surprised to see an internal ethics investigation at DOJ into the circumstances surrounding this mistrial.