Man who says ball was stolen from him will sue

SAN FRANCISCO -- A judge on Friday declared Steve Williams -- the man who ended up with Barry Bonds' 700th home run ball -- the lawful owner, freeing him to sell it immediately.

San Francisco County Superior Court judge Ronald Quidachay's decision came after a 90-minute hearing, which included six lawyers repeatedly replaying footage of the home run and the 80-second melee at SBC Park for the ball, valued by analysts at more than $100,000.

"I'm going to sell it as soon as possible," Williams, a 26-year-old mortgage broker assistant from Pacifica, told reporters after the hearing.

Timothy Murphy, a 40-year-old from San Mateo, sued Williams this week, saying he rightfully owned the ball because he had it locked behind his knees while at the bottom of a scrum before Williams swiped it.

Murphy declined comment afterward.

"You just haven't had sufficient evidence," the judge said.

Murphy was trying to get the judge to block Williams from selling the ball. That would allow a trial in a bid by Murphy to win the ball outright and sell it himself.

Although the judge said he didn't think there was enough evidence for Murphy to prevail at trial, Murphy's attorney, David Kornbluh, said he may still continue with the lawsuit and sue Williams for the ball's proceeds.

"This doesn't conclude the litigation," Kornbluh said after the hearing.

On Sept. 17, Bonds became the first new member of the 700-homer club in 31 years, joining Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. He now has 703 home runs and is closing in on Ruth (714) and Aaron (755).

Williams' attorney, Daniel Horowitz, said he and three other lawyers were representing Williams for free. As they stood by an army of news cameras outside the courtroom, Horowitz quipped, "We call ourselves the pro bono all-stars."

It's not the first time fans headed to court over the fate of a Bonds home run ball. In October 2001, Bonds' record-setting 73rd homer of the season sparked litigation that ended when a judge ordered two men to split the $450,000 the ball fetched, a year after the homer.

That case included experts in baseball and ownership rights regarding balls hit into the stands.

A second man who said he was the rightful owner of Bonds' No. 700, Alex Patino, 37, of San Francisco, said Wednesday he was going to sue Williams as well. No such suit has been filed.