The sixth week of the Enron trial will see the highest profile witness so far. Andrew Fastow, Enron’s former Chief Financial Officer, is expected to take the witness stand on Tuesday. Today cross examination of Kevin Hannon resumes. Hannon was Enron’s Broadband Unit chief. Houston Public Radio’s Rod Rice reviews last week’s testimony with Nancy Rappaport, Dean of the University of Houston Law Center.
Last week saw four witnesses testify, but it was Hannon’s testimony on Thursday that produced what could be a key moment in the trial when, under direct examination by the government he said Jeff Skilling said, “they’re on to us”.
“That’s a pretty interesting piece of testimony on its face it doesn’t sound good because it’s very had to imply a lack of knowledge or a lack of understanding that anything is wrong with the phrase “they’re on to us”. So, the only thing the defense really can do is question the witness’s credibility. It is going to be up to the jury if a witness has a particular reason to lie. I not alleging anything on either side of this one, that’s really the only argument the defense can make…”yeah, he says they said it, but did they?”
The jury will be hearing from many more witness before they get the case. They will have to keep a lot of people and their roles and their testimony straight–not an easy job. Nancy Rappaport says “they’re on to us” are words that can make a real impression.
“It’s the sort of phrase that no jury is going to forget. The question is, is there going to be enough off setting testimony that that could be considered a rouge comment. We make them all the time, people muttering in anger “I’m going to kill that guy”. Often they don’t actually mean they’re going to kill that guy. It certainly got all our attention when we heard that testimony or read about it.”
Rappaport says Hannon’s statement is not “hearsay” because he can testify to what he heard, but he may not testify about what the statement means.
The defense has made a point of making sure the jury knows which witnesses have pleaded guilty and are testifying for the government as part of their plea deals. They will no doubt make that point very clear when Andrew Fastow takes the stand. Can these kinds of witness be effective in making the government’s case?
“They can be if they look incredibly contrite. Some of the other folks who have testified have said for example they were in it, they feel horrible for letting it go on so long, and that’s one of the reasons they are testifying now.”
However, Rappaport says it is easier for the defense to raise doubt about testimony when witnesses have something to gain by it or when they have lied in the past.