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U.S. appeals court to take another swing at Barry Bonds criminal case

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Baseball home run king Barry Bonds has convinced a U.S. appeals court to reconsider his criminal conviction for obstructing a grand jury probe into steroid sales, according to a court filing on Tuesday.

The case involves testimony Bonds gave to a grand jury in 2003 about whether he used steroids to help him bash more long balls when he was trying to break his sport's all-time home run records. Last year, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco affirmed a conviction against him for obstruction of justice.

The 9th Circuit has vacated that ruling, and a larger, 11-judge panel will now reevaluate whether his testimony amounted to obstruction of justice.

"Mr. Bonds’s challenge to his conviction is alive and well," said his attorney Dennis Riordan.

After seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bonds played for the San Francisco Giants from 1993 until he retired in 2007 as Major League Baseball's career home run leader with 762. He also holds the single-season record with 73 homers in 2001, and won the National League's Most Valuable Player award a record seven times.

But suspicions over drugs tarnished his legacy, and he has not been admitted into the sport's Hall of Fame.

The U.S. Justice Department had urged the 9th Circuit to leave its previous ruling in place. A government spokeswoman declined to comment on the court's latest order.

In 2003, Bonds responded to a question about whether his former trainer, Greg Anderson, had given him self-injectable substances by telling grand jurors about his childhood.

Bonds had been testifying under a grant of immunity, and denied knowingly using steroids or any performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) provided by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, known as BALCO, or by Anderson.

After talking about his friendship with the trainer, Bonds, a son of former baseball star Bobby Bonds, had testified: "I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don't get into other people's business because of my father's situation."

The slugger was convicted on one obstruction charge in April 2011, and the jury deadlocked on three perjury counts. His sentence of two years of probation and 30 days of home confinement was put on hold pending the appeal of his conviction.

In upholding the conviction last year, the 9th Circuit had found his statements evasive and misleading. However, in court filings Bonds argued that he had merely "rambled" to the grand jury, and ultimately answered their questions.

"This is a case about prosecutors seeking a conviction of a high-profile defendant at any cost," the slugger's attorneys wrote.

Bonds and pitching great Roger Clemens are the most prominent players to have been tried in connection with baseball's so-called Steroid Era.

A jury in Washington, D.C., acquitted Clemens in June 2012 of lying to Congress by denying that he used PEDs. Clemens has also not been admitted to the Hall of Fame.

Bonds had testified that he received flaxseed oil, creams, vitamins and protein shakes from Anderson.

The case in the 9th Circuit is United States of America vs. Barry Lamar Bonds, 11-10669.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by David Gregorio)

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