HOUSTON -- Former Enron Corp. chief executive Jeffrey Skilling told jurors in his fraud and conspiracy trial yesterday that he abruptly resigned from the energy trading company a few months before it collapsed because he was worn out and troubled by its falling share price -- not because he knew disaster loomed.
''I am absolutely innocent," Skilling said right after he swore to tell the truth while testifying in his own defense.
Then he let jurors know what's at stake for him: ''I guess in some ways my life is on the line, so I'm a little nervous." As he testified, he became more relaxed and conversational, with no hint of the swaggering bravado for which he was known when he ran Enron. Known for his plainspoken manner as he led Enron's transformation from a staid pipeline company into an energy giant, Skilling addressed jurors directly, his eyebrows raised slightly, looking earnest and alert.
He repeated what he said twice before during congressional panels in 2002, that Enron was ''in very good condition in the middle of August  when I left."
His lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, asked whether he had any clue that Enron would flame out in scandal less than four months later. ''Not in my wildest dreams, no. It's almost inconceivable now what happened," Skilling said.
The 52-year-old chief executive's testimony kicked off the 11th week of the federal trial. His co-defendant, Enron founder Kenneth Lay, is scheduled to testify later this month.
Both are accused of repeatedly lying to investors and employees about Enron's financial health when they allegedly knew fraudulent accounting propped up a facade of success. Enron careened into bankruptcy proceedings in December 2001, six weeks after revealing unprecedented losses and a massive equity writedown.