Photo: Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling
WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) - Will the Supreme Court help disgraced former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling bust out of jail?
Skilling was convicted for his role in the collapse of the one-time energy giant. Now the highest court in the land says it will consider throwing out the convictions of the former Enron Chief Executive Officer. That could lead to a new trial, which, if he wins it, would set the fallen energy king-ping free.
The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will hear Skilling's appeal of lower court rulings that upheld all 19 of his 2006 convictions for conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors involving the 2001 collapse of Enron.
Skilling, serving a 24-year prison term, is asking the court to consider whether the federal "honest services" fraud statute was applied correctly. The justices already have two other cases on their schedule dealing with the honest services law, a favorite tool of federal prosecutors in white-collar crime and public corruption cases.
The law has been criticized as vague and unfair because the government need not prove, in some instances, that a defendant personally benefited from the alleged fraud.
Skilling also questions whether he received a fair trial in Houston following Enron's collapse.
In January, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the convictions, but ordered Skilling's prison term reduced.
Skilling is the highest-ranking executive to be punished for the accounting tricks and shady business deals that led to the loss of thousands of jobs, more than $60 billion in Enron stock value and more than $2 billion in employee pension plans after the company imploded in 2001.
Company founder Kenneth Lay also was convicted of conspiracy, fraud and other charges, but his convictions were vacated after he died less than two months later, of heart disease.
The case, to be argued next year, is Skilling v. U.S., 08-1394.