Taking a Breath


Now that we're through the first flurry of activity reporting the verdicts against Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling, let's sit back and take a breath and think about what we've seen and what's ahead.

First, a little housekeeping, which I should have gotten to earlier: Unlike in April, when I was in Houston, sitting in the Overflow Press Room (OPR, or Mole Hole, as dubbed by Houston AP reporter Kristen Hays), watching the testimony, I am now back in Washington.

My colleague Carrie Johnson, who has been covering the story for four years now and the trial since its kickoff more than 16 weeks ago, is still in Houston. I'm sitting here at The Post's Continuous News Desk in the main newsroom amid a flurry of multimedia activity. So far, I've been on Washington Post Radio once, CNN Headline News twice and MSNBC once. Also, I'm reporting a story for tomorrow's newspaper (remember newspapers?) and talking to you guys.

So there's that. Now, moving on.

When I posted my most recent entry before today, on May 3, Lay had finished his testimony. He was preceded by Skilling. As I wrote at the time, the two behaved far differently than expected under examination. The legendarily hot-tempered Skilling by and large kept his intellectual bullying to a minimum. A reasonable juror could have interpreted the occasional flash of Skilling anger as passion for Enron. Meanwhile, the avuncular Lay became an arrogant and angry old man on the stand, especially under cross-examination. In short, the longer Lay was on the stand, the better Skilling looked.

And the jury responded accordingly, it seemed. At least one juror said she felt Lay "had a chip on his shoulder" during his testimony. I thought Skilling did well enough to get some charges dismissed but for him, it was an all-or-nothing play. Even acquitted of nine charges, Skilling could still spend the rest of his life in prison, depending on his Sept. 11 sentencing.

Skilling's lawyer Daniel M. Petrocelli has said his team will appeal. "We've just begun to fight," he said, after he and Skilling emerged from the courthouse. So far, Lay and his family have not come out. In fact, they just ordered lunch in.

Grounds for appeal could include venue -- the defense could argue it was impossible for them to get an impartial jury in Houston. On the other hand, Enron's influence was so widespread -- so many people held Enron stock and the company's name became shorthad for 1990s corporate crime -- a change of venue may not matter.

By Frank Ahrens |  May 25, 2006; 3:16 PM ET  | Category:  Dispatches
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Robert Downey Jr. to play the lead in "Jeffrey Sklling -- the Prison Years"

Posted by: J.D.S in Beverly Hills | May 25, 2006 04:01 PM

Sure, they could have changed to a courtroom in California where their gouging and manipulation of electircity prices led to years of rolling blackouts and brownouts, a practice they proudly laughed and joked about amongst themselves.

Posted by: California Mom | May 25, 2006 06:19 PM

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