Monday, May 20, 2024


Martha Stewart Trial: Her Fate is Now in Hands of the Jury

The fate of Westport’s Martha Stewart is in the hands of jurors today.

Following instructions from the judge, the 12 jurors and six alternates are deciding whether she is the innocent victim of overzealous prosecutors or if she engaged in a criminal coverup of a stock trade, tripped up by her own arrogance.

The jury got the case shortly before noon.

The jury made requests twice in its first few hours to review voluminous evidence from the trial, including segments of the testimony of Douglas Faneuil, the star government witness.

But jurors ended the day without reaching a verdict. Their deliberations were to resume Thursday morning.

In her final instructions to jurors, U.S District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum urged them to consider the stock fraud case with “complete fairness and impartiality.”

“You are the sole and exclusive judges of the facts,” she said.

“You are to discharge this final duty with complete fairness and impartiality. You must have no bias or prejudice for or against the government or the defendants.”

The competing versions of Stewart’s role in her sale of ImClone Systems Inc. stock in 2001 were presented Tuesday in final, impassioned pleas by Stewart’s defense lawyer and a federal prosecutor.

Stewart, 62, looked on impassively as Robert Morvillo, a veteran criminal trial attorney, put on a dramatic performance in his closing argument.

At times his voice fell to a near whisper as he sought to connect with the jurors and alternates who have heard more than six weeks of testimony and evidence.

“Martha Stewart’s life is in your hands,” Morvillo said softly. “I urge you to acquit Martha Stewart and let her return to her life.”

But assistant US attorney Karen Patton Seymour, in a last rebuttal by the prosecution, said Stewart and her Merrill Lynch stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic, lied to Securities and Exchange Commission investigators to avoid the consequences of their own actions.

They may have failed, she said, because of their own “arrogance.”

“Smart people make mistakes, and smart people do dumb things,” she said. “The fact that this wasn’t all tied up and perfect doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.”

Jurors are considering four federal counts of conspiracy, lying to investigators, and obstruction of justice against Stewart. Bacanovic faces the same charges.

Each count carries a possible prison term of five years. A verdict could be delivered before the end of the week.

Prosecutors allege Stewart sold her stock for $228,000 after Bacanovic directed his assistant at Merrill Lynch, Douglas Faneuil, to tell Stewart that ImClone CEO Sam Waksal and family were trying to dump the company stock.

They were selling in anticipation of a negative opinion from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding ImClone’s anticancer drug Erbitux.

Morvillo said the government’s theory of a conspiracy between Stewart and Bacanovic to lie to investigators was implausible.

He attributed alleged false statements Bacanovic and Stewart made in the months following her stock sale to faulty memories and innocent mistakes.

If the government’s allegations of conspiracy are true, he added, it would be a “conspiracy of dunces,” because their allegedly concocted stories did not even match.

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