RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In Houston, the Enron trial is expected to go to the jury today. Former Enron executives, Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, face years in federal prison if they're convicted.
Yesterday, defense attorneys made passionate closing arguments, as NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports from Houston.
WADE GOODWYN reporting:
Daniel Petrocelli is a highly regarded West-Coast lawyer who's made his reputation in civil court. The Enron trial is the first criminal case of his career, and some would argue that representing Jeff Skilling is a heck of a way to take the plunge.
But with his closing argument yesterday, Petrocelli demonstrated that he could command any courtroom in the country. He began by laying bare his anxieties to the jury. Skilling is viewed by legal pundits here, as having an uphill battle in this case, and Petrocelli's opening words carried a whiff of his worry.
I have a lot of fears that in the three hours I have with you folks, that I'm not going to be able to explain things clearly, Petrocelli said to the jury. That you're not going to be able to see the facts clearly. That I'm not going to be able to reach your hearts and minds.
With the finer sensibilities out of the way, Petrocelli began to rip into the prosecutors and their witnesses like a freshly sharpened chain saw.
Both Skilling and Ken Lay are charged with conspiring to defraud investors about the true financial condition of Enron. Throughout the trial, defense attorneys have mocked the conspiracy charge as preposterous.
Do you know how many times prosecutors ask their witnesses about being in a conspiracy? Petrocelli asked the jury. None. Zero. Let me ask you, because you've been taking a lot of notes, Petrocelli continued, now in full chat mode. Do you know when this conspiracy started? Was there a meeting? A conversation? How can we be at the end of this trial and nobody knows anything about the conspiracy?
As he broke down the prosecution's case, Petrocelli was relentless, and his tone of voice full of controlled ridicule. They'd already decided that they were going after Jeff Skilling, so they conducted an autopsy of Enron. Tried to find something to build a case against him with, Petrocelli continued. Documents don't lie, but people do. Let's indict them! It's not so hard to create fake testimony. It doesn't have to be big lies. It can be little lies.
During the trial, prosecutors stung both Skilling and Lay with surprise evidence that the two executives had invested in a private company belonging to Skilling's ex-girlfriend. Their investment was against Enron's code of ethics, but not part of the indictment. Petrocelli lashed out at prosecutors for dragging Skilling's reputation through the mud.
Here's my response to that. It's a cheap shot. If that's the best they can do, I'm thankful for it.
Ken Lay's lawyer, Mike Ramsey, had been sidelined by a serious medical condition during much of the trial, but he made it back into court to deliver a piece of the closing argument. Showing the flair that has made him famous, Ramsey tried to buck up the jury to fly in the face of convention.
There may be a court in America that bends to political pressure, but it's not this court, Ramsey said. There may come a day when an American jury yields to a media mob, but it's not this jury. And when it's time to vote, you will vote not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty.
By mid-day today, the Enron jury will begin its deliberations and try to deliver a historic verdict.
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Houston.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.