Supreme Court Rejects Jeffrey Skilling's Appeal In Enron Case

Supreme Court Rejects Enron Exec's Appeal To Overturn Criminal Conviction

* Appeals court ruled that any errors at trial were harmless

* Supreme Court ruled in case in 2010

* Resentencing of Skilling is next legal step

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON, April 16 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear the latest appeal by former Enron Corp Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling seeking to overturn his criminal conviction over the collapse of the Houston-based energy trading giant more than a decade ago.

The justices without any comment declined to review a ruling by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that rejected Skilling's legal challenge to his conviction and that found that any error committed by the trial judge was "harmless."

The appeals court ruled a jury in the case had been presented with overwhelming evidence that Skilling conspired to commit securities fraud and it refused to grant him a new trial.

The jury in Houston convicted Skilling in 2006 on 19 counts, including conspiracy, securities fraud, making false statements to auditors and insider trading. Enron was the seventh-largest U.S. corporation before it collapsed and filed for bankruptcy in December 2001.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2010 in an earlier appeal, narrowing the reach of the so-called honest services fraud law, invalidating one theory used by prosecutors for Skilling's conspiracy conviction and ordering further appeals court review.

The appeals court then upheld Skilling's conviction. It ruled the verdict would have been the same even if the invalidated theory had not been used at trial.

In appealing to the Supreme Court, Skilling's main attorney, Daniel Petrocelli of Los Angeles, said the justices should grant the appeal and either summarily reverse the appeals court or set the case for full consideration.

U.S. Justice Department Solicitor General Donald Verrilli opposed the appeal. He said the appeals court correctly decided that an erroneous jury instruction on an alternative theory of guilt was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because evidence of guilt on the legally correct theory was so overwhelming.

Skilling has been serving a sentence of more than 24 years in a federal prison. The appeals court in its ruling a year ago set aside the sentence and ordered that the case be sent back to a federal judge in Houston for resentencing.

The Supreme Court case is Jeffrey Skilling v. United States, No 11-674. (Reporting By James Vicini, editing by Dave Zimmerman)

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