Keeping Score

The Roger Clemens Mistrial: Isn’t the Government Broke Enough?

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Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Former Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens (front) leaves the federal courthouse in Washington July 14, 2011

Your government failed you today.

There’s no other way to put it. For almost three years, federal investigators have been building a perjury case against Roger Clemens, the seven-time Cy Young award winner who told a Congressional committee, under oath in a nationally televised 2008 hearing, that he never used performance-enhancing drugs. They gathered DNA evidence that allegedly tied Clemens to syringes saved by his former trainer, Brian McNamee, who claims he injected Clemens with steroids. The government was set to call Andy Pettitte, Clemens’ former teammate and best friend. In a sworn affidavit, Pettitte said that Clemens told him that he had used human growth hormone. Why would Pettitte ever tell a damning lie, under oath, about his buddy Clemens? Pettitte’s testimony would be devastating.

But we won’t hear it — at least for another few months. After a week’s worth of jury selection in the case of U.S. v Roger Clemens, and one full day of testimony, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton declared a mistrial because of a prosecutorial goof. In front of the jury, the government played video from the 2008 hearing in which Rep. Elijah Cummings quotes from an affidavit provided by Laura Pettitte, Andy’s wife, which backed up her husband’s account of Clemens’ drug use.  The problem: Walton had ruled that Laura Pettitte’s hearsay statements were inadmissible at trial.

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A furious Walton stopped the proceedings, kicked the jury out of the room, and then scolded the prosecutors, Steven Durham and Daniel Butler. “I don’t see how I un-ring the bell,” Walton said.“I think that a first-year law student would know that you can’t bolster the credibility of one witness with clearly inadmissible evidence.”

He called the jury back, and declared a mistrial. Walton apologized to the jury. “We’ve expended a lot of your taxpayers’ money to reach this point,” Walton said, according to @NYDNSportsIteam, the sports investigative unit for the New York Daily News. A hearing to determine whether the government can retry the case was set for Sept. 2. If the judge rules that double jeopardy applies, Clemens will walk, thanks to a glitch.

(MORE: The Clemens Circus Comes to Congress)

And a retrial will just fatten an expensive bill. The public appetite for the government steroid investigations of athletes like Barry Bonds, Lane Armstrong, and Clemens is waning. Most fans have moved on. And now that the government has gone broke, every taxpayer expenditure is scrutinized. Every penny counts. The apathy has turned to anger.

After this government mishap, that anger may turn into righteous rage. President Obama and the Republican leadership are fighting over ways to keep the country solvent. The timing of this screwup is terrible. It’s the courtroom equivalent of Bill Buckner and Fred “Bonehead” Merkle, combined.

“FBI special agent John Longmire is still in the courtroom, packing up gear,” the Daily News tweeted after Walton wrapped up this disaster. “He spent 2.5 years building this case.”

Man, what must be going through that guy’s mind? Probably what’s going through the minds of many citizens. Something along the lines of: “Arrrrrrrrrrgh.”

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Sean Gregory is a staff writer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @seanmgregory. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.