Enron watchers lay in wait
Jury deliberations keep the media on edge; Trial number two begins.
HOUSTON (CNNMoney.com) - The wait is on for the verdict in the trial against Enron founder Kenneth Lay and former chief executive Jeffrey Skilling, as the jury ended its second day of deliberation.
The jury entered the Houston courthouse through the back entrance early this morning, starting deliberations at 9 a.m. ET. and left the same way. The jury of eight women and four men decided Wednesday to deliberate between 9 a.m and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Thursday. There will be no deliberations Friday.
It was a notably different courthouse on Thursday as the throng of media and public observers that had packed the courtroom benches for much of the past 16 weeks opted to clear out until a verdict arrives.
But Lay and his defense team had little time to rest as government prosecutors began Lay's second criminal trial without Skilling. Lay faces four counts of bank fraud -- carrying up to 30 years in jail each -- for $75 million in personal loans he took out from three banks. And this time his fate will lie in the hand of Judge Sim Lake, rather than a jury.
'Mr. Lay lying'
Government prosecutors allege that Lay signed documents at Bank of America (Research), Chase Bank Of Texas and Compass Bank in which he agreed that he wouldn't use the $75 million in credit lines to buy or maintain stock on margin, but then proceeded to do exactly that. That's a violation of an obscure Depression-era law, called Regulation U, which limits the amount of credit a bank can extend to customers for buying on margin in order to prevent banks from taking on too much risk.
"Your honor, this is a straight forward trial about Mr. Lay lying to banks," said government prosecutor Robb Adkins as he began opening arguments.
But Team Lay say the case is anything but straight forward, accusing the government of using this separate set of charges to try to put Lay in jail even if he is found not guilty of the six charges of conspiracy and fraud he faces in the first trial with Skilling. The defense contends that Lay paid back the $75 million loans to the banks, making this a victimless crime.
Defense attorneys will call Lay to the stand Monday to testify on his own behalf regarding the line of credit.
Judge Lake estimated that the bench trial will conclude by Monday. However, he won't render a verdict until the jury comes back with theirs on the conspiracy and fraud counts against Lay and Skilling.
During closing arguments for the first trial, defense attorneys for both Lay and Skilling attempted to convince jurors that the government's case was based on "smoke and mirrors," and urged the jury to see through the diversionary tactics prosecutors were using.
Skilling's lead attorney Daniel Petrocelli issued an impassioned argument Tuesday, calling the government's case "a virtual autopsy." He accused prosecutors of examining the corpse of Enron and manufacturing evidence by bullying witnesses into testifying when they couldn't come up with a solid paper trail implicating the defendants.
He said the government criminalized perfectly legal business transactions. Defense attorneys for Lay, likewise, have accused the government of distorting the facts to make up for a weak indictment.
But government prosecutor Sean Berkowitz, who issued the closing argument in the case Wednesday, left jurors with a final thought to mull over as they consider Lay and Skilling's fate: "You can't buy justice, you have to earn it."
Skilling faces 28 counts of conspiracy and fraud, including charges of insider trading, while jurors will have to weigh six counts of fraud and conspiracy for Lay.
Enron's 2001 bankruptcy cost thousands of employees their jobs and many of them their life savings, and led to billions in losses for investors. If convicted, both Lay and Skilling could face 20 to 30 years in jail.
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