Long-Awaited Enron Trial Begins

Enron founder Ken Lay and his wife Linda walk to the federal courthouse in Houston, Monday, Jan. 30, 2006 for the first day of his trial on fraud.
A federal judge told a group of potential jurors that their job was not to seek vengeance against Enron Corp. founder Kenneth Lay and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling as jury selection began on Monday in the premier criminal trial to emerge from the biggest corporate scandal in recent years.

Lay and Skilling arrived at a federal courthouse in Houston, looking relaxed and ready for the selection process, which could prove difficult in a city where thousands lost their jobs because of Enron's collapse.

"We're looking forward to it. We're ready," said Daniel Petrocelli, Skilling's lead trial lawyer. Skilling declined comment, as did Lay, who simply said, "Fine, how are you?" when a reporter asked how he felt.

Asked if he believed a fair jury could be found in Houston, Petrocelli said: "I'm sure hopeful that we can." Last week a flurry of defense efforts failed to move the trial elsewhere to escape a potentially hostile jury pool.

CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan reports U.S. District Judge Sim Lake started this morning's proceedings off greeting more than a hundred potential members of the jury, telling them in no uncertain terms that "this will be one of the most interesting and important cases ever tried."

The question: Can they find 16 people who haven't already formed an opinion about one of the most highly publicized cases in history? Registered voters in Houston were sent a mammoth 14-page questionnaire, containing 77 questions with multiple subparts, asking their opinion about the case. That's the basis the judge is working off today, and it is he, not the attorneys who will be questioning the potential jurors further.

What's he looking for? In his words: "What I mean by a fair and impartial jurors is a juror who will base his or her decisions solely on the evidence admitted during this trial and who will follow my instructions concerning the law."

Many expressed concern that they knew some of the potential witnesses in the case; at least two are pastors of local churches here where prospective jurors worship every Sunday. Despite that, they maintained they could still be fair and impartial if those men take the stand.

The judge hopes to complete jury selection by the end of the day.

Lake told the pool that the jury box was no place for anyone seeking vengeance.

"We are not looking for people who want to right a wrong or provide remedies for those who suffered from the collapse of Enron," he said.

When the judge asked if any jurors "view this as an opportunity to strike a blow for justice," no one raised a hand.