Prosecution: Lay Testimony Helped Our Case

ByABC News via via logo

May 26, 2006 — -- Though Jeffrey Skilling and Ken Lay spent an estimated $30 million for their defense, the investment didn't deter the jury from finding the former Enron CEO and Enron founder guilty.

John Hueston, the prosecutor who cross-examined Lay, Enron's founder, on the witness stand, says that Lay's testimony in which he "played the blame game" may have cost him the case.

"I think when a defendant takes the stand, the outcome then is in their hands," Hueston said. "And in those first few hours of cross-examination, that's when the credibility is truly at stake. I felt then was the time for us to make our case, to put it forward and that's when the credibility of Ken Lay folded. I think that was an important turning point for us."

When Enron collapsed, more than 11,000 people lost their jobs, $800 million in pension plans vanished, and $68 billion of shareholder value was lost. Hueston said he had received many e-mails and messages from people praying that the two men would be convicted.

"It was a mission in this case, and I think what inspired me was just that, that I had spoken to so many employees, so many victims who lost their savings, people who pleaded with me and the other prosecutors to see justice done," Hueston said.

Had Lay and Skilling shown remorse, Hueston said, they might have garnered some sympathy from the jury. Instead, Lay was defiant on the stand, and still maintains that he is innocent.

"I firmly believe I'm innocent of the charges against me as I have said from Day 1," Lay said. "I still firmly believe that as of this day. But despite what happened today, I am still a very blessed man."

Skilling appeared more resigned following the verdict. "Obviously I'm disappointed, but that is the way the system works," he said.

Hueston called Enron's defense tactics "ill-advised," because the defense asserted in its opening statements that there was no fraud at Enron.

"We were pleased to hear that, because we knew we'd be able to show executive after executive that there was fraud throughout Enron and that was one step we were taking right away toward conviction," Hueston said.

Yet the jurors who convicted them said their decision was an agonizing one.

"I wanted very, very badly to believe what they were saying," said juror Wendy Vaughan. "I felt their character was questioned."

"I think they made some bad choices and maybe turned their heads to some other ones," said juror Amanda Perry.

Lay and Skilling are to be sentenced on Sept. 11. Hueston said he thought that the executives deserved to spend "substantial time and perhaps the rest of their lives in jail."

"People often think of white-collar crime improperly, maybe as a lesser sort of crime," he said. "That bank robbers and violent criminals deserve long sentences, but that white-collar criminals are somehow above that. Here we've seen -- I've seen -- thousands of people with lives ruined because of the half-truths and lies told by these men."

Former Enron employee Sony Wilson is one of those people.

"I lost almost $800,000 in my 401(k) and options," said Wilson, a former Enron employee.

After losing her job at Enron, Wilson went on unemployment and struggled to take care of her family before finding another job. She says this verdict sends an important signal.

"For the most part it was closure. It was a sense of justice," Wilson said.

ABC News' Mike von Fremd and Liz Borod Wright contributed to this report.

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