Jurors told Enron trial to wrap up in April

/ Source: The Associated Press

Jurors in the fraud and conspiracy trial of Enron Corp. founder Kenneth Lay and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling got a day off Thursday as the government neared the final two weeks of its case against the two former corporate titans.

Testimony will resume Monday.

Throughout the trial that began with jury selection on Jan. 30, all the parties have had Fridays off to allow U.S. District Judge Sim Lake to address other cases. This week the judge granted the government’s request for an extra day off Thursday to accommodate scheduling conflicts with upcoming prosecution witnesses.

Prosecutors reiterated that they expect to wrap up their case-in-chief by the last week of March. Then the defendants will have their turn, and the prosecution gets the last word with rebuttal witnesses once the defense teams finish presenting their cases.

Lake on Wednesday told jurors the trial could wrap up by the end of April — which would mean the defense cases take half the time or less to present than that of the government.

So far, the government has presented 15 witnesses — seven of whom have pleaded guilty to crimes and are awaiting sentencing. One settled Securities and Exchange Commission allegations of helping Enron manipulate earnings and hasn’t been charged with a crime, and another testified under an immunity deal with the government.

Both Lay and Skilling are expected to testify, barring any changes of heart. Lay has said repeatedly that he will testify, and lead Skilling lawyer Daniel Petrocelli told jurors last month his client would testify as well.

Prosecutors allege Lay and Skilling repeatedly lied about Enron’s financial health before the company spiraled into bankruptcy protection in December 2001. The defense contends there was no fraud at Enron, Skilling and Lay did nothing wrong, and negative publicity coupled with loss of market confidence fueled the company’s failure.

Skilling, who was CEO for six months until resigning in August 2001, faces 31 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors. Lay, who resumed his role as CEO after Skilling’s abrupt departure, faces seven counts of fraud and conspiracy.