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Jury Declares Lay and Skilling Guilty of Fraud

A federal jury in Houston convicts the two former top executives at Enron -- Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling -- of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud in the collapse of the former energy-trading giant. Lay and Skilling now face lengthy prison sentences. Skilling's lawyer said he would appeal the verdict.

The verdict in one of the biggest white-collar trials in American history came after the jury deliberated over six days before convicting Skilling on 19 counts out of 28, and Lay on all counts, including four counts of bank fraud in a separate trial.

Standing in the packed courtroom, Lay's and Skilling's faces were portraits of anxiety as they awaited the decision. Skilling stood next to his lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, and Lay stood near the back of the defense table so his wife, Linda, could be by his side. Judge Sim Lake read the jury's verdict and Skilling was first: "guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty..." Lake's voice rang out the word 19 times as he read off the counts. With Lay next, Judge Lake repeated his guilty refrain.

After more than four years of investigation and prosecution, the verdict was an overwhelming success for the federal government. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Hueston said the outcome is a message to chief executives around the nation.

"CEOs cannot hide behind accountants; they can't hide behind lawyers; they can't hide behind claims of ignorance," he said, "especially when they're paid tens of millions of dollars to be faithful stewards of shareholders and investors."

Afterward, the jury of 8 women and 4 men met with the media to explain their findings on the charges of fraud, conspiracy and insider trading. After 16 weeks together, they said they were like a family, and that they are proud of themselves. And they were emphatic that Lay and Skilling were the ones in charge and accountable for the disastrous outcome at Enron.

Lay and Skilling, facing decades in prison, will be sentenced on Sept. 11.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Wade Goodwyn
Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.