Enron Trial: Skilling Returns to the Witness Stand

Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling returns to the witness stand today. This week, though, he'll face cross-examination by the prosecution at his and Ken Lay's fraud and conspiracy trial. Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reviews Skilling's performance with Houston Chronicle Business Columnist Loren Steffy.

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A lot was riding on last week's part of this long trial.

"This seems to be the one peg that they're hanging an awful lot of the defense on. So, he needed to do well and I think that he, over all he had a pretty good week."

Since the start of the trial the jury has heard nothing but bad things about Skilling so Steffy says more then just explaining or refuting testimony, it was important to show the panel that there's more to Jeff Skilling than what they've heard so far.

"At times he seemed very nervous on the stand and there were other times he seemed very relaxed. He actually reached a point where when he talked about Enron's business he was the CEO again. He was running through all this stuff, it was as if he was making presentations to Wall Street. I'm not sure, quite frankly, how much that helped him, but I think that over all the jury got to see another dimension to Jeff Skilling."

However, says Steffy, there were also times when Skilling seemed to forget reality. He talked about Enron as if it still existed and how much better it was then other companies.

"He was talking about when Dynegy got into the trading business how they were using Enron online and there was this story in Fortune magazine you could see the screens behind them all had Enron E's on the Dynegy trading floor. And he kind of chuckled and he was very proud of this and it's sort of like he's forgotten that Enron's gone and Dynegy isn't."

But as important as last week was, it was the easy part of Skilling's time on the stand. Prosecutors begin grilling Skilling today. Steffy says there are 20-thousand pages of testimony Skilling has made to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Congress and others that prosecutors have been studying.

"There're going to be matching up everything he said this week against things that he said earlier under oath. One of the big issues that I'm sure they're going to zero in on is the stock sale. He said he sold a chunk of Enron stock after September 11th because he was concerned about the market. Of course jurors have already heard the tape of him trying to sell the stock on September 6th. They've also heard testimony from the broker. Skilling's only defense to that was that he didn't remember that coming up on the call, which I think was a little hard for the jury to understand and I suspect that's one area that the prosecution is going hit very, very hard."

Skilling's cross-examination should take most or all of the week, then a few character witnesses that shouldn't take much time and then it's Ken Lay's turn. The defense has said it may call a few other witnesses but it has not said in what order they'll be called.

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