Enron Founder Back on the Witness Stand

Enron Founder Ken Lay is back on the witness stand today at his and Jeff Skilling's federal trial. Prosecutors continue to question him about his actions in the days leading up to the former energy giant's collapse. Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice talks about the trial with University of Houston Law Center's Nancy Rappaport.

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"Losing his temper is unfortunate, but it does make him human and it may not be something that is going to hurt him long term."

Many observers thought it would be Jeff Skilling who got testy on the stand, but Lay has shown he is not happy with prosecutor John Hueston and he even seemed off the script, a bit, with his own lawyer. Nancy Rappaport says when you're under oath and on the witness stand and your future is at stake...

"...you might be a little tense, but still these are the sorts of things lawyers and their clients practice because lawyers prep their clients very well for the stress of testifying, so I think it did catch everyone by surprise including his lawyer."

So could Lay's attitude be scripted, is it part of the defense plan? Doubtful, says Rappaport.

"You want a jury to like your client, and when your client has quiet dignity and a sincere wish to explain things, I think that goes across to juries a lot better than someone who probably still has more assets then the entire rest of the jury and so there's already a sense of disconnect. When he breeches that by showing his temper that makes the disconnect bigger."

But Rappaport reminds us, what observers, journalists and pundits see and conclude, may be different all together from conclusions drawn by the jury. She says a little like ice dancing.

"When you watch ice dancing from afar very few things look like mistakes and it all looks very seamless. When you watch it up close and you're a judge then you see the errors. We may see one thing; the real question is what will the jury see."

The trial is already months long and there are still a few more weeks to go. After the testimony of Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay the next important mile post before deliberations will be closing statements. Rappaport says they are critical parts of a trial but lawyers must be aware of how long the jury is enduring the trial.

"They don't want to impinge too much on the jury's good will, but at the same time, this is their last chance to help the jury interpret the evidence. After that it is just the jury pulling everything together and having a lot of discussions. So, they will want to make their closing statement long enough that they put the best possible light on the evidence that has been introduced."

After Lay leaves the stand his lawyers will call some character witnesses and Skilling's team will call some expert witnesses.

Bio photo of Rod Rice

Rod Rice

Local Anchor, Morning Edition

Rod Rice became fascinated with radio at an early age, while sitting on his Grandfather’s lap listening to his "programs" on the big Emerson Radio...