NEW YORK – The jury deliberating fraud charges against Bernard Ebbers (search), former chief executive of WorldCom Inc., asked to review testimony by a key defense witness Friday before breaking for the weekend without a verdict.
Jurors asked to be excused at 1 p.m. EST, cutting short their sixth day of discussions to decide whether Ebbers orchestrated an accounting fraud at WorldCom (search) that cost investors billions of dollars.
Ebbers, who appeared tense throughout the week, chewing on a toothpick or unlit cigar, brightened up noticably Friday when jurors informed the court of plans to leave early.
A smiling Ebbers huddled with his family, chatted with reporters about the winter weather and strolled about the federal courtroom where he has stood trial for six weeks. He is due to return to court on Monday when deliberations resume.
Before breaking, however, the jury asked for a "flipchart or poster board and markers" as well as a transcript of Cynthia Cooper's testimony.
Cooper, the company's former vice president of audit who brought WorldCom's $11 billion accounting tricks to light, testified for the defense earlier in the trial.
During her testimony, Cooper, who shared Time magazine's 2002 Persons of the Year award with two other whistle-blowers, told jurors that external auditors approved the company's accounting in early 2001 and 2002.
She later uncovered the accounting tricks and alerted investigators to the problems. Six senior WorldCom executives were eventually indicted for fraud and the company was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in 2002.
Ebbers is the only one of those executives to plead not guilty. He faces up to 85 years in prison if convicted on all counts.