- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

HOUSTON (AP) — Attorneys for former Enron Corp. chiefs Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey Skilling began their case yesterday with the men’s former assistant, who said she thought a key prosecution witness lied about his involvement in company-related crimes.

As they did during the first 2 months of the fraud and conspiracy trial of the two former chief executives, defense attorneys sought to erode prosecution testimony with their first witnesses.

Joannie Williamson had served as an assistant at various times to Mr. Skilling, Mr. Lay and former investor relations chief Mark Koenig, a key prosecution witness.

Koenig pleaded guilty in August 2004 to aiding and abetting securities fraud and testified for the prosecution that he lied to investors about Enron’s finances.

During more than seven days in the witness chair in February, he denied assertions that he had told Ms. Williamson he pleaded guilty to a crime he didn’t commit.

The defense teams maintain that most ex-Enron executives who admitted to crimes did so out of fear of prosecution and in hopes of receiving lenient punishments rather than because they broke the law.

Ms. Williamson said Koenig, whom she described as a close family friend as well as a former boss, called her the day he pleaded guilty.

“I said, ‘You’re not guilty,’ and he said, ‘I know that, but in order for this to work, everyone needs to believe that I am.’”

She added she did not think he was guilty, even though Koenig told jurors in February, “I pled guilty because I am guilty.”

Ms. Williamson said “yes” when prosecutor Kathryn Ruemmler asked whether the former assistant thought Koenig lied during his testimony, which implicated Mr. Lay and Mr. Skilling in a string of falsehoods.

“Did he tell you he was pressured?” Ms. Ruemmler asked.

“No, he did not,” Ms. Williamson replied.

Mr. Skilling faces 28 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors.

And Mr. Lay faces six counts of fraud and conspiracy.

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