Monday, June 05, 2006

But the journey from the collapse of Enron to Mr. Lay's conviction was anything but predictable. Instead, it was a long and arduous legal journey for federal prosecutors, filled with false leads and evidentiary dry holes. The public widely perceived the criminal case against Mr. Lay to have been a "can't lose" proposition, similar to the parallel case assembled against Enron's former chief executive, Jeffrey K. Skilling. But the legal hurdles on the path to Mr. Lay's conviction were so daunting that some prosecutors privately worried that they would never even be able to charge Mr. Lay with any crimes.

Prosecutors eventually defined and pinned down Mr. Lay's misdeeds by focusing on what amounted to the most basic of childhood transgressions. After analyzing millions of pages of documents, deconstructing complex accounting mechanisms, unwinding complex trading transactions and interviewing scores of witnesses, they found a theme that carried the day: Mr. Lay chose to lie — to his shareholders, his employees and his banks — and those lies were his crimes.