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Last Updated: Monday, 30 January 2006, 23:45 GMT
Enron trial judge selects jurors
Ken Lay, former Enron chairman, arrives at court with his wife Linda
Ken Lay is the latest in a line of corporate bosses to head to court
A jury has been selected for the trial of former Enron bosses Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, paving the way for the long-awaited court case to start.

Mr Lay and Mr Skilling spent much of Monday in the court in Houston, Texas, watching US District Judge Sim Lake quiz more than 100 potential jurors.

Finally, eight women and four men from the Houston area were selected to make up the 12-person jury.

The trial is set to start on Tuesday and may last up to four months.

'We're ready'

Judge Lake told jurors - which also included two male and two female substitues - it would be "one of the most interesting and important cases ever tried" but he was not looking for people to exact revenge.

After choosing the men and women, he told the jurors not to talk about the case during their trial duty, or watch news reports and read about the case.

"You have been through a rigorous selection process. You will be the judges of the facts of this case," he said.

According to reports, former Enron chairman Mr Lay and chief executive Mr Skilling arrived looking relaxed.

Mr Lay told the CNN news channel that: "All we're hoping for today is to pick a fair jury that will give me a fair shake. The outcome will be fine."

Mr Skilling's lead lawyer said that: "We're looking forward to it. We're ready."

Difficult decisions

Mr Lay faces seven counts of fraud and conspiracy relating to the firm's collapse in 2001, which followed a huge accounting scandal.

Mr Skilling faces 31 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors about Enron's financial position.

Both have denied all the charges.

The key task of selecting the jury aroused controversy long before it got underway.

The problem with high-profile trials is that you have jurors wanting to be on because it is their moment to interface with fame
Howard Varinsky, jury consultant

Lawyers for the defendants had called for the trial to be moved away from Houston, arguing that holding it in Enron's home city means their clients will not be able to get a fair hearing.

About 4,000 people lost their jobs following Enron's collapse, the majority of whom worked in Texas, while many others saw their life savings disappear as a consequence.

Judge Lake has also turned down the request by defence lawyers to be able to question the potential jurors directly.

Instead Judge Lake has pledged to conduct the vetting process himself, insisting he will ensure that a fair and impartial jury is selected.

Essential vetting

Jury consultant Howard Varinsky told Associated Press that a thorough vetting of would-be jurors was essential to ensuring a fair trial, particularly in such a high-profile case.

"The problem with high-profile trials is that you have jurors wanting to be on because it is their moment to interface with fame," he said.

"They fool themselves into thinking they can be fair."

The two defendants, Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling
Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling face 38 criminal counts in total

The complex, highly technical nature of the allegations against the two defendants and the huge media coverage surrounding the trial means the jurors will come under intense pressure.

If convicted of all counts, the two defendants are likely to spend most of the rest of their lives in prison.

Plea bargain

Jacob Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor and enforcement lawyer with the Securities and Exchange Commission, said the jurors must be able to screen out all other considerations other than what they hear in court.

"These cases are not about books, movies and blogs," he said.

"You have two corporate executives who are basically putting their lives in the hands of these jurors."

When the trial gets underway, the two defendants are expected to say they had no direct knowledge of the details of the fraud at Enron.

In a speech last month, Mr Lay laid the blame for the fraud at the feet of Enron's former finance chief, Andrew Fastow.

Mr Fastow struck a plea bargain with the authorities last year in return for a reduced sentence and is expected to give evidence against the duo.

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