The trial of two former top executives of the Enron corporation began Monday in Houston with the selection of a 12-person jury. Opening arguments are planned for Tuesday.
With jury selection over, both prosecutors and defense attorneys will now set their basic cases before the panel, giving an indication of what strategy they will employ in the weeks ahead.
On trial for fraud are former Enron chairman of the board Kenneth Lay and former Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling. Both say they knew nothing of the fraudulent accounting that eventually led to the company's collapse in late 2001. Among the people most hurt were several thousand Enron employees who lost their jobs and all their retirement savings. Wall Street investors, who at that time were still reeling from the bursting of the hi-tech bubble and the effects of the September 11 terrorist attacks, were also among the big losers.
Attorneys for both Lay and Skilling had asked that the trial be moved out of Houston because so many people have strong feelings about the Enron scandal, a request that was denied. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake, in his instructions to the jury Monday, called on the panel to put aside any such feelings and decide the case based on the evidence presented in court.
Defense attorneys had wanted to spend more time questioning each potential juror, but at the end of the day, they expressed confidence in the 10 men and six women who will sit on the jury and panel of four alternates.
Jeffrey Skilling's attorney Daniel Petrocelli spoke to reporters at the end of the day. "You know, we had some issues, but the judge did a very good job of getting us through the day and we are very pleased with the jury that we have," he said.
Ken Lay also came before reporters briefly and expressed confidence in his case. "My fate and Mr. Skilling's fate is in their hands and we are going to get on with making the case that, in fact, we are innocent," he said.
Outside the federal court building in downtown Houston there was a small army of reporters and photographers from around the world who are here to cover the trial. There were also some demonstrators, both for and against the defendants. One man even showed up with copies of an audio disc containing rap songs about the Enron case. But Judge Lake has made it clear he wants that sort of activity kept well away from jurors and he warned them not to talk to anyone, including fellow jurors, about the case until all the evidence has been presented and it is time for them to come to a verdict.