Sun, Mar 07, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Martha Stewart found guilty, may face jail term

END OF THE INNOCENCE The guru of gracious living was convicted of lying to investigators in a case which observers say, has finally laid the ghost of the 1990s

REUTERS , NEW YORK

TV news producers run in and out of federal court waving red scarves and signs, to tell their colleagues the verdict of each of the charges against business woman Martha Stewart, in New York, Friday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Martha Stewart, who built a media empire on tips for gracious living, was found guilty on Friday of lying to investigators over a suspicious stock sale and now could face prison time.

Stewart, 62, stood stone-still in the courtroom and showed no emotion as she heard the verdict, which ended a seven-week trial. She later said she would appeal.

The eight women and four men returned their verdict on the third day of deliberations. Stewart was found guilty of one count of conspiracy, two counts of making false statements and one count of obstruction of agency proceedings.

Wearing a black pantsuit, Stewart solemnly left the courthouse among a throng of hundreds of people and a small group chanting "We Love you Martha."

"I will appeal the verdict and continue to fight to clear my name. I believe in the fairness of the judicial system and remain confident that I will ultimately prevail," she said in a letter posted on her personal Web site, www.marthatalks.com.

She will be sentenced on June 17. Each count carries a possible prison term of five years and a US$250,000 fine, although legal experts believe Stewart will receive a sentence of less than five years, perhaps only 18 months, based on federal sentencing guidelines.

In the trial, related to her suspicious sale of stock in biotech company ImClone Systems Inc, her co-defendant, former stockbroker Peter Bacanovic, was found guilty on four of five counts. His lawyer said he will appeal.

One of the jurors, Chappelle Hartridge, told reporters that the panel felt Stewart's background as a stockbroker played a part in the verdict and decided early on the second day of deliberations that she was guilty.

"She should have known her moves were illegal," he said.

He said he also believed the verdict "was a victory for the little guy who loses money in the market because of this kind of transaction. It sends a message to bigwigs in corporations they have to abide by the law. No one is above the law."

Stewart worked briefly as a stockbroker before starting a home catering business that spawned her media empire.

As the judge polled the jurors individually, Stewart looked from juror to juror, glancing down at the verdict sheets and tossed her hair from her eyes but remained stoic.

"When we first indicted this case we said that it was all about lies. As you saw in the evidence, that's what it was, lies to the FBI, lies to the Securities and Exchange Commission, about very important matters," acting US Attorney David Kelley told reporters after the verdict.

Discount store Kmart, which sells a range of Stewart's products, said in a statement it was "saddened to hear that Martha Stewart was found guilty" but made no further comment.

Starting with her catering business, Stewart built a media empire that attracted millions of American fans who loved her magazines, books, TV shows and home products.

Fans loved her attention to detail, her ability to prepare the picture-perfect dinner party and decorate a breath-taking home for every season. But others complained she set impossible standards for modern women juggling career and family who barely had time to microwave the evening meal.

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