For Skilling, it's time to talk
Former Enron CEO is scheduled to take witness stand in his defense, hoping to refute government charges and suppress his famed temper.
HOUSTON (CNNMoney.com) - It's showtime for Enron's former chief executive Jeffrey Skilling as he finally prepares to take the stand in his own defense Monday.
Enron watchers were disappointed last week as Skilling's testimony, originally slated for Thursday afternoon, was pushed back when the testimony of Enron's former general counsel James Derrick dragged out over two days. With court not in session on Friday, prosecutors will wrap up their cross examination of the witness Monday morning.
And then all eyes turn to Skilling, who will seek to convince the jury that he is not the greedy, ruthless villain that the prosecution has sought to portray over the last 10 weeks.
Speculation was rampant in the courtroom Thursday that the defense had timed the delay in order to prevent the prosecution from being able to work on a rebuttal for Skilling's testimony over the weekend. Skilling's lead attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, denied that the delay was a defense strategy as he spoke to reporters outside the courtroom Thursday afternoon.
And in a rare move, Skilling – who primarily speaks through his attorney – told reporters that he was eager to take the stand.
"It's time to get the story out," he said outside of the courtroom Thursday. "I have nothing to hide. I am innocent of all the charges that have been put forward, and I think we'll show that when we get on the stand."
Skilling's testimony is expected to be a pivotal moment for the defense and one that could tip the scales in his favor -- if he is able to convince jurors that he truly is the victim of a mass conspiracy by the government.
The defense contends that not only were Skilling and Enron founder Kenneth Lay innocent of any crimes, but that there were no crimes to begin with at Enron, with the exception of former financial chief Andrew Fastow's shady dealings.
Tough task ahead
But Skilling faces an uphill battle after the prosecution presented jurors with a line of credible witnesses -- including some of Enron's former top lieutenants, who all pointed the finger at Skilling as the director of the massive fraud that led to Enron's implosion in 2001.
Defense attorneys attempted to downplay the testimony of witnesses for the prosecution, suggesting that the former Enron employees who testified against their one-time bosses did so under pressure from the government. And the defense has been quick to point out that the prosecution's case is based entirely on word of mouth, as opposed to any incriminating documentation.
But legal experts said the prosecution's case was damaging, and now both Skilling and Lay will have no choice but to take the stand in order to defend their actions.
And in a "he-said, she-said" case such as Enron, Skilling will have to rely on more than just his testimony. He will count on being likable enough to sway the jury. And that will be the true test for Skilling -- a man known for his quick temper and brash demeanor.
Skilling's testimony will be followed by that of three character witnesses, rather than Lay, as originally anticipated.
It's still unclear whether Lay attorney Michael Ramsey will be back in time for Lay's testimony. Ramsey, who had a stent placed in his heart late last month and has been notably ill throughout the beginning of the trial, underwent a successful stent procedure to clear a blockage in a carotid artery Friday morning, according to a statement from Methodist Hospital in Houston.
A Lay spokeswoman said Ramsey was released Saturday morning.
While the defense team maintained that Ramsey's illness isn't expected to cause any delays or complications within the trial, for Lay, the timing couldn't be worse.
Lay and Skilling combined face almost three dozen fraud and conspiracy charges. They are accused of lying to investors about the company's financial state while they enriched themselves by selling millions of dollars in stock. Lay will also face an additional trial for fraud once the jury in this trial enters deliberation. Legal experts estimate the defendants face 20 to 30 years behind bars if convicted.
Enron was once the seventh-largest corporation in the U.S. It declared bankruptcy in December 2001, costing 4,000 employees their jobs and resulting in millions of dollars in losses for investors.
Click here for our special report on the Enron trial.