Jury Perspective

Defendants Sunk by Their Testimony

By Carol Rust
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, May 26, 2006

HOUSTON, May 25 -- Jurors in the Enron trial made it clear that it would have been better for former executives Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling if they'd kept their mouths shut and stayed off the witness stand.

Speaking shortly after a federal judge read their verdict, jurors said Lay's indignant outbursts while testifying in his own behalf made him seem "that he very much wanted to be in control -- he commanded the courtroom," said Wendy Vaughan, a Houston business owner.

"He was very focused, but he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder that made me question his character," she said.

As for Skilling, who spent days explaining the tedious financial inner workings of the once high-flying energy company, the jurors couldn't understand how he could know so much about that and not be aware of illegal business maneuvering, whether or not he was responsible for it personally.

"Skilling was supposed to be a hands-on individual," said Freddy Delgado, an elementary school principal. "It's hard to believe a hands-on individual wouldn't know what was going on."

"When he got on the stand and knew what a [technically complicated] chart was and how it worked, we knew he was involved," Delgado said.

Elementary school teacher Kathy Harrison said she was glad Lay and Skilling took the stand during their trial. Had they not, "I would have always had questions," she said.

Jurors, who appeared from the start of the trial to form a close and cohesive unit, collectively hissed when one brought up Lay's testimony about how he felt his employees' pain, given his repeated multimillion-dollar stock sales in the weeks leading up to Enron's bankruptcy. During that time, Enron's human resources department was switching to a new savings program and employees couldn't sell their stock, which for many was their life savings.

Lay's stock sales "meant a lot," said legal department manager Doug Baggett. "It defined the word 'intent.' " "It went very much to the character of the person he was -- cashing out at the expense of employees," Delgado said.

Juror Carolyn Kuchera, a payroll manager, said most jurors worked nights and on weekends to maintain their personal and professional lives during the four months of testimony and less than six days of deliberations.

"The responsibility of Lay and Skilling -- all I can do is relate that to what we had to do," she said. "We did our jobs on nights, weekends and holidays. We would leave here to go to work. We were accountable -- those [Enron] employees deserved the same thing."

Speaking early Thursday afternoon in a sixth-floor jury assembly room, the jurors -- who dressed in red for Valentine's Day, wore Mardi Gras beads on Fat Tuesday and dressed in Western clothing on Texas Independence Day -- sometimes finished each other's sentences and voiced confidence that they had made the best decision possible after the biggest collective challenge in their lives.

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