Jurors Weigh In on Enron Trial Testimony
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The jury of eight women and four men met with reporters to explain their thinking. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has this report about which testimony the jury believed and which testimony it didn't.
WADE GOODWYN reporting:
There was a dairy farmer, an elementary school principal, a design engineer and a dental hygienist, a ship inspector and a personnel manager. They ranged in age from early 20s to their golden years. To anyone who sat in the courtroom day after day, it was apparent that Judge Simeon Lake had managed to seat a conscientious jury. They took copious notes, they exchanged knowing glances during key moments in the testimony, and they rolled their eyes when former CEO Jeff Skilling told them that at Enron, accounting mistakes running into the tens of millions of dollars were considered insignificant rounding errors.
After 16 weeks of listening, it was time for the jury to take center stage. Wendy Vaughan said, at first, it was a nightmare trying to sort through all that evidence.
Ms. WENDY VAUGHAN (Jury Member, Enron Trial): I think it was like a puzzle, you know, with about 25,000 pieces dumped on the table. And that's how we felt when we first started was, you had all these pieces and you don't know where to start. You just have to do one piece at a time until you get closer to the end, the pieces start coming together easier.
GOODWYN: Prosecutors put on the stand nearly a dozen former Enron executives, most of whom had already pleaded guilty to their own wrongdoing. The jury said they were impressed with the government's very first witness: Mark Koenig, Head of Investor Relations. Koenig fingered Jeff Skilling for manipulating Enron's financial reports to artificially beat Wall Street's expectations.
They were also impressed with Treasurer Ben Glisan, who testified that he'd warned Ken Lay, in no uncertain terms, that Enron was in serious financial trouble.
Mr. DOUG BAGGETT (Jury Member, Enron Trial): I don't think any one witness could have done it by themselves.
GOODWYN: Juror Doug Baggett...
Mr. BAGGETT: I think we really had to consider all of the evidence, and I believe we had 20 something boxes of evidence presented to us. So we all took copious notes during the trial that we were allowed to review. I think, between our notes, the testimony that we saw, we had what we needed.
GOODWYN: Elementary school principal Freddy Delgado said that they used those notes to compare their impressions and hash out a consensus about each witness's credibility.
Mr. FREDDY DELGADO (Jury Member, Enron Trial): In sharing the notes, we all got different perspectives of the same person, so I think that helped us say, alright, do we believe them or do we not believe them. It was hard. It was a hard decision to go through, but we always went back to the evidence; that's all I can say. We went back to the evidence.
GOODWYN: When Ken Lay took the stand, he was surprisingly combative, upbraiding his own lawyer and demonstrating his contempt for John Hueston, the Assistant U.S. Attorney who cross-examined him. Wendy Vaughan confirmed Lay's testimony ended up working against him because it convinced the jury that Lay was very much a take charge guy.
Ms. VAUGHAN: He seemed very much, wanting to be in control when he spoke. He kind of commanded the room, I thought, when he answered questions. He just seemed very focused - a little bit of a chip on his shoulder or something I guess. I think it made me question his character at that point.
GOODWYN: The jury also wanted to make it clear that they were in command of certain important legal distinctions. For example, they said that just because Jeff Skilling was found not guilty of nine counts of insider trading did not mean they thought he was innocent, just that the government hadn't proved it beyond a reasonable doubt. Doug Baggett said the jury was dazzled by the legal talent on display.
Mr. BAGGETT: I would go home one night a little swayed one direction. The next day, cross or direct would've began and it'd go the other direction. And I think we all felt (unintelligible) that; you felt like a ping-pong ball.
GOODWYN: When trying to decide whether Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling should be held accountable for what happened at Enron, the jury held the two executives to a high standard, and interestingly enough, the jury's standard was themselves. Carolyn Kuchera is payroll manager.
Ms. CAROLYN KUCHERA (Jury Member, Enron Trial): Those of us that have full-time jobs, we did our jobs at night when we went home so tired that we hardly knew who we were. We did it on the weekends; we did it on the holidays. We would leave here sometimes from court and go to work. We were responsible and we were always accountable and we always had to find a way to circle back around and tie up the loose ends, and I think those employees were entitled to the same thing.
GOODWYN: In the end, Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling did not measure up to the jury's expectations. The ramifications of that failure are likely to be severe.
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.