High court: Enron exec jury trial fair

June 24, 2010 at 12:25 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) -- The U. S. Supreme Court Thursday ruled Enron Corp. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling was able to have a fair trial on conspiracy charges.

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

Skilling argued that 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 compared with other possible venues, but the high court said he did not establish there had been juror prejudice against him or that there had been any actual jury bias against him.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the unanimous decision, said media coverage had been most 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 attends only the extreme case, and Skilling's was not extreme.

The court said the applicable Honest Services statute covers only bribery and kickback schemes. The Court vacated the ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Skilling's conspiracy conviction. The scope of the honest services law means the jury instructions in Skilling's trial were incorrect.

Concurrences, however, created a 6-3 split.

A concurrence was filed by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer. Sotomayor said Skilling did not have a fair trial before an impartial jury.

Justice Antonin Scalia also filed a concurrence, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy that the honest services statute is unconstitutional.

Justice Samuel A. Alito filed a concurrence disagreeing on the jury trial issue.

Skilling's conviction was vacated and the case was remanded for further litigation consistent with the new ruling.

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