The late Kenneth Lay, the former chairman of Enron convicted by a jury this year for his part in the massive fraud that brought down the giant energy company, has had his guilty verdict overturned and his indictment wiped from the record.
The extraordinary final twist in Lay's story came yesterday, the result of a long-standing precedent in US law covering felons who die before they have exhausted the appeals process.
Lay vigorously protested his innocence from the time of Enron's bankruptcy in 2001, through his trial in Houston, Texas, this year, and until his death from a heart attack on 5 July.
The collapse of Enron wiped out the pensions and savings of thousands of employees, most of whom lost their jobs, and Lay's death led to an outpouring of public invective. It also prompted the Justice Department to demand that the law be changed to prevent convictions from being vacated in the event of a defendant's death. But the proposed change, which would have been backdated specifically to cover Lay, failed to find a sponsor on Capitol Hill.
"Lay died before sentencing, before a final judgment could be entered, and before a notice of appeal could be filed," Judge Sim Lake ruled. "The court concludes that Lay's conviction must be vacated and that this action against him must be dismissed."
Lay had been due for sentencing next Monday.