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Death of Kenneth Lay Leaves Questions Unanswered

Widely condemned for his role in the largest corporate bankruptcy in history, Enron founder Kenneth Lay, who died Wednesday at the age of 64, leaves behind many unanswered questions. Two experts discuss the unaswered questions of Lay's life and the Enron trial.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And finally tonight, the legacy of questions left by the death of Ken Lay.

    The founder of Enron died in Aspen, Colorado, yesterday, after suffering a heart attack. He was awaiting sentencing for his conviction on multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy, all related to the collapse of his once high-flying energy company.

    Barry Boss is a managing partner at the Washington, D.C., law office of Cozen O'Connor. His work concentrates on white-collar crime and corporate compliance. And Kurt Eichenwald is The New York Times reporter who chronicled the downfall of Enron and Ken Lay. His book on the case is called "Conspiracy of Fools."

    First, Barry Boss, it's pretty well settled that Ken Lay's death means his conviction is null and void; is that correct?

  • BARRY BOSS, Cozen O’Connor:

    That's right. It erases the conviction. It takes him all the way back to before the case was started. So, it's as if the case was never brought.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, why is that?

  • BARRY BOSS:

    Well, it has to do with the presumption of innocence. The presumption of innocence is very strong. And unless you have had a chance to go all the way through the appellate process and test your conviction, in our country, you're presumed to remain innocent.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    All right. Now, that immediately affects the — the government's efforts through the criminal conviction route at least to reclaim his so-called ill-gotten gains; is that correct?

  • BARRY BOSS:

    I believe it does. I believe it totally eviscerates it.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    All right. So, the government could still go on a civil route to try to get whatever money might be available, right, but they couldn't do it just automatically, as they were doing it before?

  • BARRY BOSS:

    Correct. It's possible they could do it civilly, but, as a practical matter, I'm not sure they can. It's been a long time since the conduct that led to the charges occurred.

    There is generally a five-year statute of limitations for a lot of the civil forfeiture actions, which is probably the statute they would choose to bring. So, they may or may not have remedies available.

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