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Criminal defense attorneys in Atlanta said they weren’t entirely surprised that convicted former Enron CEO Kenneth L. Lay succumbed to a heart attack on Wednesday. White-collar criminal defendants, who enjoy the benefits of concentrated power, big salaries and extravagant lifestyles, never expect to find themselves in front of a judge and facing a long prison term, said Atlanta criminal-defense attorney Wilmer “Buddy” Parker III, who previously was a federal prosecutor. That’s not the case with other types of criminal defendants. “I rarely ran into drug traffickers who had health problems,” Parker said. “They didn’t have much stress. They understood the nature of their business.” Lay’s sentencing was scheduled for Oct. 23. Lay was convicted in May on six counts of conspiracy, wire fraud and securities fraud related to Enron’s 2001 bankruptcy. Lay, who faced the likelihood of spending the rest of his life in prison, was free on a $5 million bond. Prosecutors had been seeking a $43.5 million judgment from Lay, representing what they claim was the amount he pocketed in the Enron fraud. Lay proclaimed his innocence throughout and at the conclusion of his 16-week trial in Houston. To be sure, no doctor familiar with Lay’s physical condition has said the heart attack was related to his legal problems. But the emotional trauma of a criminal trial and conviction often manifests itself in health problems, white-collar criminal defense attorneys said. The defense lawyer for Lay’s co-defendant, Jeffrey K. Skilling, indicated as much. “Given all the pain and anxiety and stress that Ken had to endure, it would be hard for any person to hold up,” O’Melveny & Myers partner Daniel M. Petrocelli told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. Lawyers who specialize in DUI defense often represent clients who have had little or no exposure to the criminal justice system. A person who has an otherwise stable life with a regular job and family obligations can be overwhelmed by the possibility of jail time, said Atlanta DUI attorney George A. Stein. “Dealing with the judicial process often is the equivalent of an emotional meltdown for people,” Stein said. For someone like Lay, whose Enron stock holdings at one point were worth several hundred million dollars, a lifelong prison sentence represented the polar opposite of his current lifestyle, Stein said. During his trial Lay defended various elements of his lifestyle, including a $200,000 yacht purchased for his wife’s birthday party. “It was difficult to turn off that lifestyle like a spigot,” Lay said on the stand, according to The Wall Street Journal. “For someone like Mr. Lay, who had such a beautiful lifestyle for so long, to have to deal in his golden years with a profoundly long jail sentence and potentially come out of there in a pine box, that’s got to make you susceptible to physical problems,” Stein said. The uncertainty of a criminal probe is sometimes more difficult than the trial itself, said former criminal-defense attorney Ellen S. Podgor. Being under investigation is akin to a bottomless pit, with no end in sight. “A client once told me, �Thank God I finally got indicted,’” said Podgor, a former Georgia State University law professor now at Stetson University College of Law. “He could actually see what was going to happen.” Many criminal-defense attorneys neglect one of their responsibilities in giving advice to clients in high-stress situations, Parker said. “Too many times, lawyers have forgotten our roles,” Parker said. “We used to be attorneys and counselors at law. There is a lot of counseling that can be of value to clients.” Deputies and an ambulance were dispatched to Lay’s rented vacation home near the ski resort village of Aspen, Colo., at 1:41 a.m. Wednesday for a medical emergency, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. Lay, 64, was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:11 a.m. An autopsy showed the cause of death was coronary artery disease, according to Pitkin County Chief Deputy Coroner Scott Thompson. Lay is survived by his wife, five children and stepchildren and 12 grandchildren. Staff Reporter Andy Peters can be reached at [email protected]

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