Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Judge refuses to award Martha Stewart new trial

AP , NEW YORK

A judge refused to grant Martha Stewart a new trial on Wednesday, dismissing a long-shot appeal based on claims that a juror lied to conceal a bias against the celebrity homemaking entrepreneur.

The decision by US District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum clears the way for a hearing next month at which Stewart could be sentenced to more than a year in prison for lying about a stock sale.

Stewart claimed juror Chappell Hartridge lied repeatedly on his jury questionnaire, including failing to disclose he had been arrested in a domestic dispute and accused of stealing money from a Little League baseball group.

Whether or not the charges are true, Cedarbaum wrote, they do not meet the legal standard of showing the juror would have been excused for bias during jury selection.

"Many of the allegations offered to support these claims amount to little more than hearsay, speculation and, in one instance, vague allegations made by a person who refused to identify himself," the judge wrote.

Cedarbaum also denied a new trial for Peter Bacanovic, who was convicted along with Stewart on March 5 for lying about why Stewart sold 3,928 shares of ImClone Systems in 2001, just before the stock plunged on a negative report about a cancer drug.

Bacanovic made similar allegations against Hartridge, and lawyers added that one juror had told them the jury discussed an expensive handbag that Stewart toted to court during the trial.

"All this information reveals is that Stewart is a wealthy woman," Cedarbaum wrote. "Defendants cannot seriously contend that the jurors were not already aware of that."

Stewart lawyers Robert Morvillo and John Tigue said they disagreed with the ruling and planned to appeal errors that "deprived Martha Stewart of a fair trial."

"We regret that a case about false statements was decided by a juror who appears to have made many false statements in an effort to gain access to the Stewart jury,'' they said.

Lou Colasuonno, a spokesman for Bacanovic, said lawyers for Bacanovic "still believe these issues have merit and present solid grounds for appeal."

But any appeal would be filed after a June 17 sentencing at which Stewart and Bacanovic are each expected to get 10 to 16 months in prison. Cedarbaum could allow them to spend up to half the time in home confinement.

Stewart also claimed that post-trial comments by Hartridge, by far the most outspoken of the 12 jurors, showed a bias against her. He said on the day of the verdict that the conviction was "a victory for the little guy."

The judge said Hartridge was likely responding to press questions that asked him to speculate about the meaning of the verdict.

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