Lawyers for Kevin Howard, former vice president of finance for Enron Broadband Services, may have found an opportunity to overturn their client’s conviction.
Last month, Howard was found guilty of five counts of fraud, conspiracy, and falsifying records; former senior director of transactional accounting Michael Krautz was found not guilty of those same charges. The first trial of Howard, Krautz, and three co-defendants ended in a hung jury in July 2005.
The five individuals were accused of inflating the value of the broadband division, either by lying about the company’s technological prowess or by faking a sale to boost earnings and inflate Enron’s share price, according to a Houston Chronicle article at the time.
On Tuesday, the Chronicle reported that two jurors and two alternates now say that they felt pressured by fellow jurors to convict Howard. All four reportedly signed letters asserting that the trial of Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling — taking place in the courtroom next door — created a vindictive atmosphere. The newspaper noted that one juror claimed she felt the goal was to “fry” Enron’s upper management, including Howard; another reportedly wrote that some jurors were bullied into swapping their guilty vote for Howard for a not-guilty vote for Krautz.
Howard’s attorney, Jim Lavine, told the Chronicle: “This whole process started because a juror reached out and contacted us and said that ‘You need to know that this process wasn’t fair.’ The jurors did not believe, after they had time to think about it and digest it, that Kevin had a fair trial.”
Other lawyers reportedly chalked up the controversy to “buyer’s remorse” that, they assert, is common in high-profile trials. University of Houston law professor Peter Hoffman told the Chronicle that he doubts the judge will order a new trial. Howard’s attorneys would need to prove “there has been some outside influence where somebody’s tried to bribe them, somebody’s talked to them about it, somebody’s interfered with their deliberations,” the professor told the newspaper.
The Chronicle cited the affidavit of Cheryl Oswalt, a juror who declined comment to the paper. “When there was no unanimous agreement on either Kevin Howard or Michael Krautz, another juror insinuated during deliberations that they had changed their votes for Krautz, so maybe we might consider changing our votes for Howard,” Oswalt reportedly stated. “Tempers flared.”
According to the paper, Oswalt maintained that she and two others thought Howard was not guilty, but they succumbed to pressure from the trial judge, who wanted the jury to reach a decision, and from other jurors, who seemed unlikely to change their positions.
Daniel Doucet, the jury foreman, told the Chronicle that he disagreed with the jurors who signed the affidavits. Before lunch on the final day of deliberations, he said, the panel was split nine to three in favor of convicting Howard; the three jurors who voted not guilty changed their votes after lunch.
“I especially tried to make sure no one felt unduly pressured to change their votes from something that was different than what they truly believed,” he told the Chronicle.