SAN FRANCISCO - Tammy Thomas was a bit player in the infamous Bay Area-based sports doping scandal that ensnared Barry Bonds and a host of other big-name athletes.
An elite competitor in the obscure sport of short-track cycle racing, Thomas denied under oath in 2003 that she used performance-enhancing drugs even though the one-time Olympic hopeful was suspended for life from amateur athletics in 2002 after testing positive for steroid use. For the second time.
When she was charged with felony perjury and obstruction of justice charges, she pleaded not guilty although prosecutors had amassed overwhelming evidence of her steroid use on top of the positive tests.
She endured a humiliating trial in 2008 that included testimony and photographic evidence that she had beard growth, male pattern baldness and other masculine side effects associated with heavy steroid abuse.
By the time of trial, Thomas was trim, fit and feminine appearing.
When the jury returned a guilty verdict, Thomas - dressed demurely in black - shrieked at prosecutors to “look me in the eye” as her close-knit family hustled her out of the courtroom and home to Mississippi. In October 2008, she was sentenced to six months of home detention and five years of probation, including regular visits with a probation officer.
Most recently, on the same day that Bonds’ name first appeared on Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot, Thomas asked a judge to end her probation term 11 months early so she can get on with her life without routine visits to her probation officer - and can practice law.
“Her performance on supervised release has been exemplary,” her public defender’s Nov. 28 application to the federal judge overseeing her case stated. “Ms. Thomas has well learned from her mistakes and has made productive use of her time and talents, demonstrating that she has responsibly rehabilitated from prior criminal behavior.”
On Friday, in a phone interview from her home in a suburb of Jackson, Mississippi, Thomas called her experience in the early 2000s “an extremely dark period of my life” before declining to discuss her legal case or performance-enhancing drugs any further, other than to say “cycling was a dirty sport,” and then cutting off talk about steroids.
“There is so much I’d like to talk about,” she said. “But now’s not the right time.”
Instead, she wanted to talk about her religious beliefs and serving as an example that mistakes in life can be overcome.
“God wants me to share my story with others,” Thomas said. “There are lots of people out there who need hope. Everyone makes mistakes.”
Among the goals she hopes to accomplish if the judge grants her request is to obtain a law license, which is a long-shot with her felony conviction but getting off probation would allow her to begin the application process.
She graduated from the University of Oklahoma’s law school in April 2010, two weeks after a tornado destroyed her parent’s house in her hometown of Yazoo City. “My family and I have been through a lot,” said Thomas, now 42. “My parents are strong people.”
Thomas said she became inspired to attend law school after she researched, wrote and filed her own lawsuit against the scientist who detected the steroid norbolethone in her urine. The scientist, Dr. Don Catlin, wrote in a scientific journal about his forensic work in detecting the obscure steroid created in the 1960s but never manufactured and never before detected in an athlete. But since Catlin never identified Thomas in the article, a judge said she had no case of invasion of privacy and ordered her to pay Catlin’s legal fees of $32,000.
Nonetheless, Thomas was inspired to become a lawyer after her experience.
“I’m now trying to make the best of my life that I can,” she said, conceding that her conviction may ultimately prevent her from practicing law.
She said that after law school she couldn’t even find work as a paralegal. So she obtained a personal trainer license and opened a fitness center, which she views as an extension of her new calling to aid those in need physically - and spiritually.
Thomas said she has re-embraced her strong Southern Baptist beliefs she learned as a little girl but abandoned when she got into competitive cycling. “I went down the wrong path,” she said. “But there’s a reason God plucked me out of small town Mississippi, put me on center stage and then knocked me to my knees.”
Matt Parrella, the lead federal prosecutor of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative sports-doping cases, is not filing an official opposition to Thomas’ request. But the U.S. Department of Probation is expected to oppose her application. The San Francisco probation office has a blanket policy to oppose all such motions for early termination except “in exceptional cases.”
The trial judge is expected to decide whether to cut 11 months from Thomas’ probation.
“I’m ready for anything,” Thomas said. “Nothing happens by chance. God has his plan for me.”