Enron Trial: Fourth Week in Review

The fourth week of the Enron trial had only one witness on the stand. She was former Enron corporate secretary Paula Rieker. Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reviews her testimony with Houston Chronicle Business Columnist Loren Steffy.

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This was a short week at the Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling fraud and conspiracy trial, Monday was a holiday and Judge Sim Lake uses Fridays to take care on non-Enron business. Loren Steffy, whose blogs from the trial are always informative and often humorous, thinks that Rieker has been the best witness so far.

"In fact she's one of the better witnesses I've ever seen in a trial like this. She was very composed, very poised, she had a lot of information at her finger tips, she knew how to find the documents to back up what she was saying. You could tell that she had been a corporate secretary 'cause she was just very particular, very precise in everything she did."

Steffy says she seemed to connect with the jury. She made frequent eye contact with them, something others jurors have not done. And she did what the other government witnesses so far have not done.

"She was the first one that made some key points that actually put Skilling and Lay in the situations that are discussed in their indictments. Up 'til now most of what we've had is witnesses laying the foundation for how things worked at Enron."

Steffy doesn't believe that Ken Lay's attorneys did much damage to Rieker on cross examination, but that Skilling's lead lawyer Dan Petrocelli had her more unsettled.

"He spent a lot of time looking at the compensation she had gotten at Enron, about how she had received one of those bonuses right before the company filed for bankruptcy. He questioned some of her claims about what some of her role was at Enron, her involvement in preparing some of these scripts, at one point he basically accused her of putting words in Skillings mouth."

Steffy calls that the "dufus defense"

"The implication was that Skilling didn't know what he was talking about, he just took whatever was given to him and said this to analyst."

But Steffy thinks it was effective and may have scored some points for the defense. He say the defense is also trying to mitigate the fact that 16 former Enron employees have entered guilty pleas and are testifying for the government. Steffy says Petrocelli tried to show inconsistencies between what Rieker said before and after she struck a deal with prosecutors.

"So, he's clearly trying to show the government plea agreements have influenced their testimony. That these witnesses are simply trying to save their own skin and they'll say anything to avoid going to prison."

When the trial resumes this morning prosecutors are expected to call Wes Colwell to the stand. He's Enron's former Chief Accounting Officer.

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