HOUSTON -- Lawyers for former Enron Corp. chiefs Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling insisted yesterday the men were guilty of no crimes, arguing the company was never infested with fraud and instead fell victim to a sudden crisis of market confidence.
Lay and Skilling were pioneers in the energy trading industry who deeply loved their company -- which stands to this day, Lay lawyer Michael Ramsey said, as ''one of the finest free-market institutions the world has ever seen."
A federal prosecutor laid out a different version of events, telling jurors in opening statements in the trial that the men lied to Wall Street and their employees to cover up the crumbling finances that drove what was once the nation's seventh-largest firm into bankruptcy protection in December 2001.
Daniel Petrocelli, arguing for Skilling, went so far as to suggest 13 of the 16 Enron executives who have pleaded guilty to federal crimes were innocent but caved in to intense pressure from zealous federal prosecutors.
''This is not a case of hear-no-evil, see-no-evil," Petrocelli said, at times animatedly jabbing his finger at the jury. ''This is a case of there was no evil."
Countering four years of negative publicity that turned the very name Enron into a symbol of accounting chicanery, Petrocelli said, ''There's no evidence any books were cooked at Enron."
But federal prosecutor John Hueston said Skilling and Lay sold Enron stock before a massive fraud was exposed.
''This is a simple case," Hueston told jurors, pacing slowly before the jury. ''It is not about accounting. It is about lies and choices."