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Former Enron Executive's Death Ruled a Suicide

Reuters, 26 Jan 2002


HOUSTON (Reuters) -- The death of former Enron Corp. Vice Chairman J. Clifford Baxter, who died of a gunshot wound to the head, has been ruled a suicide, the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office said on Saturday.

Baxter, who before his resignation last year complained about questionable financial deals that led to the company's bankruptcy and was sought by congressional investigators, was found in his Mercedes Benz with a .38-caliber revolver and a suicide note at his side early on Friday in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land.

Medical examiner Joye Carter conducted an autopsy on Baxter's body on Friday and found the cause of death was suicide by ``penetrating gunshot to the head,'' a spokeswoman told Reuters.

Her ruling confirmed an earlier finding by Fort Bend County Justice of the Peace Jim Richard, who at the scene ruled the death a suicide but ordered an autopsy out of what he said was ''an abundance of caution.''

Baxter, 43, resigned from Houston-based energy trader Enron in May, just seven months after his promotion to vice chairman, for what the company said was a desire to spend more time with his family.

But an Aug. 14 memo from Enron whistle-blower Sheron Watkins to Chairman and Chief Executive Ken Lay indicated Baxter had feuded with then-Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling about off-balance sheet deals the company was using to hide billions of dollars in debt.

Disclosure of those deals last autumn shattered the company's credibility and sank its credit ratings, which forced it into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December.

The contents of Baxter's suicide note have not been released, but it supposedly contained references to Enron. One news report said it indicated that Baxter could not take the pain of his former company's collapse.

His death came a day after the start of congressional hearings in Washington on Enron's fall and the role of its auditor, Big Five accounting firm Andersen.

Congressional investigators sought to interview Baxter last week while they were in Houston looking into Enron.

Baxter was also a defendant in lawsuits targeting Enron's top executives, accusing them of cashing in on insider information.

Court records and securities filings show he sold more than half a million Enron shares for $35 million between October 1998 and early 2001.

© 2002 Reuters
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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