Lay, Skilling on edge of conviction as Enron case ends

March 29 | Updated: Mar 30 2006, 05:30am hrs
US prosecutors have presented enough evidence to convict Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling of the fraud that destroyed Enron Corp, defense lawyers said after the government finished its case.

Prosecution witnesses, including Enrons former treasurer and finance chief, vividly portrayed the energy traders culture of corruption, said David Irwin, a criminal defense attorney in Baltimore. They showed Lay, Enrons former chairman, and Skilling, its former chief executive officer, used that culture to disguise company finances from investors, Mr Irwin said.

The government has methodically built a wall of evidence around Mr Skilling and Mr Lay with the testimony of their former colleagues, said Mr Irwin, a former prosecutor now with Irwin, Green, Dexter & Murtha in Towson, Maryland. Jurors have enough evidence to convict both men.

To maintain their freedom, Mr Lay and Mr Skilling have to persuade a federal jury in Houston that the witnesses, many of whom pleaded guilty to the fraud, lied. Their lawyers plan to argue the government is seeking to criminalise normal business practices and that the two executives are victims of unscrupulous subordinates. Both men have vowed to testify.

While the defense is in a deep hole, they can still salvage an acquittal if Mr Skilling and Mr Lay can show this is a case of over-zealousness on the part of prosecutors, said Christopher Bebel, a former federal prosecutor whos now a defense attorney in Houston.

Lawyers for Mr Lay and Mr Skilling argued on Tuesday that the government hadnt presented enough evidence to convict their clients and unsuccessfully asked the judge to acquit them after prosecutors rested their case.