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Case Against Former Enron Top Executives Goes to Jury


The fate of former Enron Chairman Ken Lay and former Chief Executive Officer Jeff Skilling, is now in the hands of a federal jury. Prosecutors completed their closing statements Wednesday.

Defense lawyers emerged from the federal courthouse shortly after Federal Judge Sim Lake sent the case to the jury and expressed optimism about the outcome. One of Ken Lay's attorneys, Mac Secrest, said his client wants resolution of the case once and for all.

"Quite frankly, we are hoping that whatever the verdict is, that they reach a verdict. We do not want a hung jury," said Mr. Secrest.

The chief attorney for Jeff Skilling, Daniel Petrocelli was upbeat in his assessment of how the nearly four-month-long trial has gone.

"We are very relieved that this part of the trial is over," he said.

His client, Skilling, stood beside him as he spoke to reporters, smiling and apparently at ease. Skilling said he had watched jurors during the trial and felt confident in their ability to judge the case fairly.

"I think the jury was attentive, they took a lot of notes," he said. "It was a complicated case. There was a lot in front of them and I think they got it. I think they understood what was going on and understood what the issues were."

Both Skilling and Lay say they are innocent and blame the collapse of Enron in December 2001 on traders who sold the energy trading company's stock short, on newspaper and magazine stories that undermined investor confidence and on the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that shook up the stock market in general.

In their closing statements Tuesday, defense lawyers said the government had coerced witnesses to testify against both Lay and Skilling.

But Assistant US Attorney Sean Berkowitz had the final word in finishing the prosecution's closing arguments Wednesday morning. He rejected the charge that government witnesses had been coerced. He said witnesses who had pleaded guilty in exchange for testimony were obligated under their plea agreements to tell the truth.

Berkowitz also attacked Skilling's use of the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an excuse for selling Enron stock. Prosecutors contend that Skilling sold stock to get his money out of the failing company even as he assured investors that all was well. Berkowitz said, "Mr. Skilling used our nation's tragedy to cover his tracks. That is offensive and he should not get away with it."

The federal prosecutor reviewed evidence with the jury that he said proved both Lay and Skilling had lied to analysts, investors and their own employees about the health of the company. Berkowitz said, "They withheld the truth and they put themselves before investors."

Berkowitz concluded by saying, "You cannot buy justice."

Ken Lay faces six counts of fraud and conspiracy and Jeff Skilling faces 28 counts of fraud, conspiracy and insider trading.

Enron, the company they once ran, was at one time the seventh-largest company in the United States and touted as a model for the so-called "new economy" of online trading. Its collapse into bankruptcy was considered one of the biggest disasters ever in U.S. corporate history and was the first in a string of corporate scandals that shook investor confidence in the market.

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