Lay, Day Three: Battered and Fried

It's hard to imagine Enron founder Kenneth L. Lay having a tougher day on the witness stand than he did Wednesday.

But what the heck. Let's try:

Top Five Ways Ken Lay Could Have Had a Tougher Wednesday on the Witness Stand

5. He could have produced a can of gasoline and a Bic lighter and self-immolated.
4. He could have been abducted by aliens.
3. He could have been chewed to death by rabid rats. (Actually, all three of those might have been preferable. They at least would have gotten him off the witness stand.)
2. He could have killed a juror with a trident.
1. He could have spent the entire morning and most of the afternoon being grouchy and defensive with his own lawyer, George "Mac" Secrest and then, when government prosecutor John Hueston took over, he could have turned on him like an overbred Doberman.

Oh, wait. That's what did happen.

If two ways to alienate yourself from a jury are a) by putting them to sleep and b) by coming across as unlikeable, Lay hit the Lotto yesterday. His transformation at the hands of Hueston was something to see. Every day Lay is on the stand, former Enron chief executive Jeffrey K. Skilling -- the former chief executive, he of the 28 counts of fraud, the legendary temper, the bullying intellect -- looks like a better witness.

Lawyers watching Lay testify on cross-examination in the Overflow Press Room (OPR) were aghast at his performance. He took Hueston's bait and bit hard. He's probably still trying to dig the hook out of his lip.

Hueston began his questioning by writing on a courtroom whiteboard words spoken by Lay's lawyer during his opening statement as this trial began 13 weeks ago: "By our deeds we are known."

Then Hueston proceeded to assault those deeds. But first, Hueston provided an opening-act plot twist, of the sort usually reserved for later in the film. Instead of accusing Lay of hiding mounting losses at Enron or lying to investors (Yawn. Heard it.), Hueston accused him of ... trying to tamper with witnesses!

Whoa! Didn't see that coming!

Hueston said Lay called witnesses just before they were set to testify to "get his story straight."

Lay sheepishly admitted he had called some folks to make sure he had his facts right, but didn't know they were witnesses.

Uh, Hueston said, they were, like, on the government witness list that your laywers had.

But wait, there's more: Lay was unhappy with earlier testimony by former Enron finance chief Andrew S. Fastow, who has copped a plea and turned state's evidence, about a meeting between Lay, Fastow and other Enron officials with Goldman Sachs in late 2001, just before Enron declared bankruptcy.

Lay disagreed with Fastow's recollection of the meeting. Earlier this month, Lay called Goldman Sachs officals to quiz them on their memories of the meeting. The calls so unnerved Goldman Sachs -- as they should have -- the firm had its lawyers call Lay's lawyers to deliver a blunt message: Tell Ken to quit calling us.

Hueston egged Lay on with sarcasm. Lay acknowledged he'd called former Enron math genius Vince Kaminski -- whom he'd never had a one-on-one with -- just days before Kaminkski was scheduled to testify for the government. Lay said he wanted to talk to Kaminski about "risk management," whatever that is.

"It's just an incredible coincidence, sir, that you decided to talk about risk management with Vince Kaminski nine days before he was going to testify here?" Hueston wise-cracked. "Is that what you'd like the jury to believe?"

If Lay had been a Warner Bros. cartoon character, he'd have had steam blowing out of his ears.

One can only imagine what Hueston has in store for Lay on Thursday. If he maintains the level of his Thursday attack -- which my colleagues in the press described as "blistering," "relentless" and "rapid-fire" -- it's not hard to imagine Lay finally getting fed up with the impudent young prosecutor and yelling: "You're damned right I ordered the Code Red!"

By Frank Ahrens |  April 27, 2006; 7:37 AM ET  | Category:  Dispatches
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Comments

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Aren't there some sort of repercussions for talking to witnesses ahead of a trial? When this info that Lay had talked to witnesses came out in the courtroom, did the the judge say anything, any admonishment whatsoever? Thanks

Posted by: seattle | April 27, 2006 12:08 PM

Frank -- though this is supposed to be a blog and thus written in a quick style, your piece on "Lay: Day Two" was brilliant!

I especially liked -- "If Lay had been a Warner Bros. cartoon character, he'd have had steam blowing out of his ears."

This must be fun to watch. Do you really think that Ken is hurting himself with the jurors?

Posted by: Zach from Charlottesville | April 27, 2006 02:39 PM

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