By ERIN McCLAM
The Associated Press
He was a man, after all -- not just some abstract symbol of corporate thievery and vanished investor billions. Kenneth Lay, founder of Enron Corp., was also a grandfather to 12, a husband to the woman who sobbed at his side on the day of his conviction.
And yet his sudden death early Wednesday in Colorado deprives the thousands of victims of the Enron debacle the satisfaction they said they would feel at his spending perhaps decades in prison, reflecting on his crimes.
The prosecutors who won the devastating conviction against Lay declined comment Wednesday.
The Enron founder's death at age 64, three months before he was to be sentenced, left many grappling with difficult questions of forgiveness, retribution and the meaning of justice itself.
"I hate this happened. I personally wanted to see him go to jail. But maybe this is God's way of having justice done," said Charles Prestwood, a former pipeline operator who retired from Enron in 2000 and later lost $1.3 million in retirement savings.
Prestwood said he already had heard talk of parties being thrown by ex-Enroners to celebrate Lay's death. He strongly objected.
"I wouldn't wish death on nobody," said Prestwood, 67. Of Lay and his former associates, he said, "They caused me to have financial debt, but at least my old heart's still ticking."
Others were less forgiving.
"He got off easy," said a blunt Sherri Saunders, who worked for Enron and its predecessor company for 24 years before she was laid off in 2001 and lost $1 million in retirement savings.
"To those of us who lost everything, we still have to struggle every day," Saunders said, adding that she had taken comfort in knowing that "if he was going to die, he was going to die in prison."
Lay cast himself as the victim of an injustice, prosecuted simply because the company he built had failed -- failed honestly, he insisted, far from its reputation as a fraud-infested house of cards.
He had portrayed the case as a witch hunt, a prosecutorial "wave of terror."