High court: Enron exec jury trial fair

June 24, 2010 at 3:37 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) -- Former Enron Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling won a partial U.S. Supreme Court victory Thursday overturning his conviction on a federal fraud statute.

The U. S. Supreme Court vacated Skilling's conviction for violating the honest-services law and sent it back to a lower court but turned back arguments Skilling failed to receive a fair trial on conspiracy charges.

After Enron went bankrupt and its stock value plummeted, an investigation found an intricate conspiracy involving Skilling to shore up Enron's stock prices by overstating the company's financial status.

Skilling argued hostility toward him in Houston, along with extensive pretrial publicity, had prejudiced potential jurors.

Skilling produced hundreds of news reports showing Enron's downfall, as well as affidavits from experts showing unfavorable community attitudes in Houston as compared to other possible venues. But the high court said he did not establish there had been juror prejudice or that there had been any actual jury bias.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing the unanimous decision, said media coverage had been mostly objective and unemotional, and the facts of the case were not sensational. Further, effective jury selection detects juror bias.

The court said a presumption of prejudice can be assumed only in extreme cases, and Skilling's case was not.

The court, however, struck down the honest services statute, saying it covers only bribery and kickback schemes. The court also vacated Skilling's conspiracy conviction, saying jury instructions were incorrect in light of the honest services statute finding.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer, agreed with the Court's decsion, but said Skilling did not receive a fair trial before an impartial jury.

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