The Enron trial inched closer to its end as former chairman Kenneth Lay wrapped up his testimony and a parade of character witnesses took the stand.

Both Lay and former chief executive Jeffrey Skilling are facing federal charges of fraud and conspiracy over the downfall of the company, as the trial wrapped up its 14th week.

Prosecutors have alleged that under Lay and Skilling, Enron overvalued its assets and used improper cash reserves to polish its earnings. Defense lawyers have said that Enron never falsified its books, and both the former executives were the victims of outside forces -- including negative publicity and duplicitous subordinates -- beyond their control.


Lay concluded his sixth day of testimony on Tuesday, and was followed by two accounting specialists who described the company's accounting as routine, and its cash handling methods as universal. According to reports, at several points during cross-examination of the witnesses, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake asked prosecutors to avoid getting bogged down in arguing details and definitions.

As expected, Lay's testimony centered on former chief financial officer Andrew Fastow as the guilty party. Lay said that Fastow's crimes, along with the actions of a few other people, that put the wheels in motion for the company's public demise. Lay also pointed to a slowing economy, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, short-sellers targeting the company and negative articles appearing in The Wall Street Journal as the perfect storm of events that resulted in the company's bankruptcy.

The defense is expected to finish presenting its case early next week, and closing arguments should begin by May 15. A separate bank fraud trial against Lay, expected to last a week, could begin as early as May 18.

In the same Houston courthouse, jury selection began Wednesday in the first of three retrials of five former Enron broadband executives. Their first trial ended in a hung jury.

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