Following this development from Monday, the Enron Task Force prosecution is now clearly in serious damage control mode in the ongoing criminal trial against five former Enron Broadband Services executives in Houston federal court.
As this Mary Flood Houston Chronicle story reports, the prosecution hurriedly changed course after the prosecution’s key witness — former EBS CEO Ken Rice — was forced on Monday to admit during cross-examination that he had falsely testified on direct examination that defendant Rex Shelby had made certain statements to an analysts’ conference in 2000.
After Mr. Rice was finally excused on Tuesday after eight days of increasingly grueling testimony, the prosecution departed from its pre-trial witness list and called Beth Stier, who works for a company that previously provided independent contractor video services for Enron. That company continues to maintain a large library of Enron-related videos, and the company is currently providing consultant services for the criminal defense team of former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling.
The source of confusion in Mr. Rice’s testimony was a videotape of the analysts’ conference that the prosecutors used in examining Mr. Rice. That particular video contained a segment of Mr. Shelby’s comments that Mr. Rice contended had been shown at the analysts’ conference.
However, the defense revealed this past Friday that the prosecution had used the wrong video and that the raw footage video of the analysts’ conference clearly showed that the segment containing Mr. Shelby’s comments had not been played for the conference.
On Monday, the defense was allowed to show the jury the raw footage video that proved that the segment containing Mr. Shelby’s comments had not been played for the conference.
Ms. Stier testified on Tuesday that she had originally taped the segment with Mr. Shelby for the conference, but that the segment was not used during the conference and that she had later inserted the segment into an edited version of the videotape at the request of Enron’s investor relations department.
Ms. Stier also admitted that she had given the prosecution a copy of both the edited videotape that the prosecution ended up using in examining Mr. Rice and also the raw footage videotape that the defense team used on cross-examination to impeach the credibility of Mr. Rice’s testimony.
During her testimony, Ms. Stier then revealed that the Enron Task Force prosecutors had hauled her down to the Federal Courthouse over this past weekend to question her over the videotapes after they first became aware of video mixup during cross-examination of Mr. Rice last Friday.
During the weekend questioning, Ms. Stier apparently hedged her answers to prosecutors’ questions regarding the work she has done for the Skilling defense team. Accordingly, when the prosecution asked her today on the witness stand whether she had lied to the prosecution in answering those questions over the weekend, Ms. Stier admitted that she had been very careful about her answers and then added:
“You guys scare me to death. I do not want to lie to you.”
As noted in this earlier post, the damage from the prosecution’s use of the wrong video on Mr. Rice’s direct examination could have been limited by the prosecution’s forthright admission of its mistake.
However, from the report of today’s proceedings, the prosecution not only failed to adopt that approach, but inexplicably compounded the damage from its previous error by attempting to shift the blame to a frightened woman on the witness stand before a predominantly male jury. Such a major tactical blunder is a clear sign of a panicked prosecution.
Consequently, a trial that formerly looked like a sure-fire winner for the Enron prosecution has now turned into a real horse race. Stay tuned, for this trial is has just become very interesting.