July 21, 2005
No convictions in Enron Broadband trials

Holy crap. I did not expect this.

Three months after the Enron Internet fraud trial began, prosecutors failed Wednesday to win a single conviction against any of the five defendants.

After deliberating less than 24 hours over four days, a Houston federal court jury acquitted three of the men on some charges and deadlocked on most of the Enron Broadband Services case.

With all the things that went on during this trial, I figured there'd be some acquittals. I never thought the prosecution would get completely skunked, though. What am embarrassment. Sort of makes you wonder how much Andrew Weissman knew as he was leaving.

"This verdict is a reflection of the complexity of this pro- secution," said Robert Mintz, a New Jersey-based legal expert who follows the cases. "It spells trouble for the government trying to convince jurors in this case and others in the future."

He and other legal experts said the acquittals and mistrial can only bode well for ex-Enron executives Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and Rick Causey, who face off with the humbled prosecutors next January.

But Mintz also said the judge was "quick on the trigger for a mistrial" noting that "in cases this complex jurors sometimes go weeks and say they are deadlocked and judges send them back and they finally reach a verdict."

That happened most recently in the Richard Scrushy case. The former chief executive of HealthSouth Corp., was acquitted of fraud after 21 days of jury deliberations including a period when jurors said they were deadlocked.

After being told by each juror that they were hopelessly deadlocked, Judge Gilmore made the jury deliberate for a little more than another hour.

She asked them to reconsider and break the deadlocks because so much time went into the case and another jury would just have to start over again. But the jurors insisted there was no hope.

After that the judge accepted the not guilty verdicts on 24 counts, leaving no defendant completely exonerated.

This seems like an awfully short timespan to pull the plug on deliberations to me, too. I don't even know how you can reasonably discuss 164 charges against five men over two months of testimony in only 24 hours, let alone decide that there's no way you can come to an agreement about them. Maybe Judge Gilmore had had enough, I don't know.

As for the potential effects on the Skilling/Lay/Causey trial, this certainly knocks a lot of wind out of the prosecution's sails. Obviously, those charges have to stand or fall on their own, but you'd think at the very least there'd be a psychological effect. If this were a sports story, there'd be a whole grab bag of cliches we could reach for, about things like "chemistry" and "momentum" and stuff like that. It would be mostly hot air, of course, but it would sound good.

As always, Tom has some sharp analysis of what happened. Former EBS workers react to the verdicts here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 21, 2005 to Enronarama | TrackBack

Yes, Charles, this was a terrible setback.

The prosecutor hit the jury with so many charges they confused the issues.

It's a real disaster. I've heard the lead prosecutor has now resigned, is this so.

Posted by: ttyler5 on July 26, 2005 6:51 PM