WASHINGTON -- Pitching hero Roger "The Rocket" Clemens was simply criminal defendant William R. Clemens on Monday as the former major league baseball star entered a "not guilty" plea to charges that he had lied to Congress during a confrontational 2008 hearing over steroid use in his sport.
During a 13-minute hearing at the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse, a few blocks down from Capitol Hill where Clemens testified two and a half years ago, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton set an April 5 trial date in the case.
Sitting behind a nameplate stating "defendant," the 48-year-old athlete remained silent through most of the arraignment, the first legal step following his Aug. 19 indictment on six felony counts, including perjury.
Clemens, dressed in a dark gray jacket and tan slacks, stood next to his lead attorney, Rusty Hardin of Houston, as a court clerk asked if he was prepared to enter a plea.
"We are," Hardin responded.
Asked how he pled, Clemens said in a calm, strong voice, "Not guilty, your honor."
The seven-time Cy Young Award winner, widely considered one of the greatest professional baseball pitchers of all time, faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine if found guilty of the charges. However, federal sentencing guidelines for first-time offenders make a sentence of 15 to 21 months more likely if Clemens is convicted.
During his career, Clemens was an 11-time major league baseball all-star, won 365 games and struck out 4,762 batters hurling for the Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees. He won two World Series championships with the Yankees, a Most Valuable Player award with the Red Sox and was named to baseball's all-century team.
Walton, who presided over the 2007 perjury conviction of former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, allowed Clemens to remain free without bail as long as the Texas resident checked in with court officials every two weeks.
"I don't think there needs to be any additional precautions regarding this defendant," the judge declared.
The brief proceeding was a prelude to what could be an explosive trial that would highlight the seamy side of a sport that has been rocked by allegations that some of its superstars, including Clemens and sluggers Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, used performance-enhancing drugs as they were breaking major league records.
Clemens could become the first player to serve prison time for the abuses of what has come to be known as the "Steroid Era" in baseball. "The Rocket," as he became known on and off the field, is charged with one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making false statements and two counts of perjury for his testimony during the 2008 congressional probe into a report on steroid use in baseball written by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine.
The criminal charges stem from a confrontational hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, where an emotional Clemens flatly denied ever knowingly using banned substances, despite testimony to the contrary from former teammate Andy Pettitte and former assistant strength coach Brian McNamee.
At the request of the committee's top Democrat and Republican, the Justice Department began its investigation into Clemens. A grand jury started probing Clemens on May 15, 2009, and handed down its indictment on Aug. 19.
Clemens is charged with making false statements about the use of human growth hormone, steroids and Vitamin B12. The pitcher told lawmakers that McNamee had injected him with Vitamin B12 and the painkiller Lidocaine - but not steroids or human growth hormone.
Clemens arrived four hours before his court hearing in a black Escalade ESV and spent the morning in the sprawling building's back rooms, where defendants go to have their mug shots and fingerprints taken. Before the hearing, the defendant and his chief lawyer shared lunch in the courthouse's lunch room - for Clemens, a salad and a bottle of water.
At the hearing, Clemens was flanked by a team of five lawyers led by Hardin and Michael Attanasio of San Diego. He occasionally rocked sideways in his chair or paged through legal documents.
The mood was mostly genial, with Hardin and prosecutors agreeing to postpone Clemens' trial, which could have come as soon as Nov. 8, for five months to allow the defense to review evidence and conduct its own scientific tests.
Prosecutors told the court that they had turned over a 34-page index of evidence gathered in the case and 12 computer disks with the material for use by Clemens' defense. The prosecution also promised to turn over all grand jury testimony and FBI interview reports to Clemens' attorney.
After the arraignment, Clemens walked down a spiral staircase from the sixth floor courtroom to the ground floor as dozens of reporters followed him. He politely declined persistent requests for comment.
"We're not going to have any statement," said Hardin.
Clemens got in the Escalade and headed to his private jet, which reportedly was taking him to a golf tournament in South Carolina.
Since his indictment, Clemens has proclaimed his innocence and has told friends he is anxious to go to trial and clear his name. Hardin has said that Clemens turned down a plea deal offered by federal prosecutors.
Clemens recently sent a Twitter message to his fans saying he is "happy to finally have my day in court."