5th Circuit Upholds Enron Jeff Skilling's Conviction
In a 13-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld all 19 convictions of conspiracy, fraud and other crimes. It also reaffirmed its 2009 decision that vacated Skilling's sentences of more than 24 years in federal prison and ordered a resentencing. In the 2009 ruling, the appeals court ruled that the sentencing judge misapplied federal sentencing guidelines.
Some of Skilling's convictions were for honest services fraud, which the Supreme Court has since held invalid. The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the 5th Circuit to decide "whether the honest services instruction amounted to harmless error." Today, the 5th Circuit found just that: harmless error, meaning the convictions stand:
Based on our own thorough examination of the considerable record in this case, we find that the jury was presented with overwhelming evidence that Skilling conspired to commit securities fraud, and thus we conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the verdict would have been the same absent the alternative-theory error.
Some (in my view) twisted reasoning:
In its rebuttal closing statement, the Government made reference to the honest-services allegations against both defendants, but it mentioned the honest-services theory in relation to Skilling only once. Further, it never argued that the jury should convict Skilling solely on the honest-services theory, nor did it tell the jury that it should disregard the evidence of securities fraud in reaching a conviction.
This single reference to Skilling’s honest services, in light of the Government’s extensive argument on securities fraud, merely permitted the jury to decide the case on the wrong theory. It did not force or urge it to do so, and therefore, it shows only that an alternative-theory error occurred, not that the error was not harmless.
So Skilling's convictions stand but he'll get a relatively minor reduction of his 24 year sentence when the court gets around to resentencing him. Skilling is serving his sentence at the low level federal prison in Englewood, Colorado.
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