Three months and more than 50 witnesses later, testimony ended Monday in the government's fraud and conspiracy trial against Enron Corp. founder Ken Lay and former chief executive Jeffrey Skilling for their role in the company's downfall.
Next week, the jury will begin hearing closing arguments, as well as be given instruction from U.S. District Judge Sim Lake on what legal issues they may consider when judging the two executives.
Lake denied a motion by defense lawyers to prevent the jury from considering whether Skilling or Lay could be found guilty if either man deliberately chose not to know about alleged criminal activity at Enron. The exact wording of Lake's instructions will be of note, especially considering that WorldCom Inc. founder Bernard J. Ebbers, another executive charged with accounting fraud, has appealed his conviction partly on the grounds that he was unjustly convicted because of the same jury instruction.
Both Lay and Skilling testified as part of a defense witness lineup numbering nearly 30. The government called more than 20 witnesses of its own -- including eight former Enron executives who have pleaded guilty to crimes -- resting its case on March 28 before calling three rebuttal witnesses Monday. Several high-ranking Enron managers who could have clarified what happened in some meetings at issue in the trial declined to testify without being granted immunity.
Likely unsure as to whether he would help or hurt their case, neither the government nor the defense called Richard Causey, Enron's former chief accounting officer, to testify. Causey pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy last December after originally being indicted in the case along with Skilling and Lay.
Also this week, Lay's lead lawyer, Michael Ramsey, returned after surgery to clean out a clogged artery.
When deliberations do begin, Lay will begin another trial on four charges of bank fraud, slated to begin May 18. The case will be tried before Judge Lake without a jury. Prosecutors allege that Lay obtained $75 million in loans from three banks and reneged on an agreement with them not to use the money to carry or buy margin stock.
Skilling faces 28 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors, and a maximum of 275 years in prison if convicted on all counts. Lay faces six counts of fraud and conspiracy that carry a maximum penalty of 45 years. Each of the banking charges against Lay also carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.
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