Testimony Expected to Begin in Enron Trial

With opening statements out of the way, testimony is expected to begin this morning in the fraud and conspiracy trial of former Enron executives Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. Houston Public Radio Business Reporter Ed Mayberry has been following the trial.

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Tuesday was set aside for opening statements. Attorney Mike Ramsey told jurors that the Enron story is almost Greek-like in its tragic proportions. He said Enron's fall didn't happen because of wrongdoing by Ken Lay or Jeff Skilling, but by a market panic set in motion by publicity resulting from the actions of former Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow. Ramsey said Fastow stole money from the company, but also stole Enron's good name. But he said Lay accepts responsibility for Enron's collapse.

Ramsey had two hours to lay the framework for Lay's defense. He said failure is not a crime. He told the jury that markets are moved by hope and fear, and cannot tolerate uncertainty. When the word got out that Enron was having problems, trading partners would no longer do trades with a phone call. He said Lay never sold stock that he wasn't compelled to sell, and spent time talking about Lay's civic contributions--things he says you wouldn't associate with a conspirator.

Jeff Skilling's attorney Daniel Petrocelli spent his two hours countering that the defendants are not accused of theft, pointing out that Andrew Fastow, Ben Glisan and Michael Kopper stole from the company with side deals. He said Lay or Skilling never led, participated in or knew of any conspiracy to deceive investors. Petrocelli later spoke with reporters outside the courthouse.

Petrocelli said Skilling will be taking the stand during the trial. Both defense attorneys said the prosecution has clipped segments out of audio and video evidence they are presenting, so they intend to play whole segments in context for jurors.

The day started when lead prosecutor John Hueston told jurors this case is about lies, and not accounting. He said they will prove that Skilling and Lay knew about the true condition of Enron, and what they knew was not known by the investing public. Heuston said the two lied to Wall Street and to their own employees to cover up the crumbling finances, despite crushing debt. He spoke of fragile financial structures designed to hide liabilities.

Petrocelli was asked whether he feels he connected with the jury.

The first witness for the prosecution takes the stand this morning. Ed Mayberry, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...