Opening statements are expected to begin today in the government's fraud and conspiracy trial against former Enron Corp. chairman Kenneth Lay and chief executive Jeffrey Skilling.
Jury selection started Monday, with U.S. District Judge Sim Lake saying that he expected a jury to be chosen in less than a day, despite concerns from the defendants' lawyers that unbiased jurors would take longer to find in Houston.
In two rejected motions, lawyers for Skilling had asked for the trial to be moved to a city where fewer people were hurt by the fall of the energy giant. About 4,000 Enron workers lost their jobs and retirement savings when Enron collapsed in an accounting scandal in December 2001.
There are about 2.3 million registered voters in Houston, the country's fourth-largest city, and about 16 people -- 12 jurors and four alternates -- were expected to be chosen on Monday from a pool of about 100. Prospective jurors numbered 400 at the start of the process, before a 76-question form thinned the ranks.
Lay, 63, is charged with seven counts of fraud and conspiracy while, Skilling, 52, faces 31 counts of conspiracy, fraud and insider trading. The men are accused of lying to Enron employees and the public as part of a conspiracy to hide the truth about Enron's shaky financial position. Reports say that the duo have built a defense that Enron was a fundamentally sound business brought down by liquidity problems after trading partners lost confidence following the 2001 terrorist attacks and the implosion of tech stocks.More than a dozen other former Enron executives have pleaded guilty to various crimes, including securities fraud and insider trading -- including former chief accounting officer Richard Causey, former chief financial officer Andrew Fastow and former treasurer Ben Glisan Jr. The trio have pledged to cooperate with the government and are expected to be key witnesses in a trial experts say will last four to six months. Lay and Skilling are reportedly spending more than $20 million on their joint defense.
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