General News

Martha Stewart Pleads Not Guilty

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Jan 21, 2004 | 12:52pm EST

As the jury selection began Tuesday for her trial, Martha Stewart, who was present during the selection, quietly pleaded not guilty to a federal judge on charges of lying to investigators, obstructing justice and securities fraud, Reuters reports.

The perfectly coiffed Stewart, who built her catering company into Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, stood when introduced by District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum and nodded her head slightly toward the potential panelists, Reuters reports. Stewart responded she was not guilty as each of the five counts against her were read. She then emerged from the courthouse shortly before 6:30 p.m. EST, declined comment and was escorted into a waiting black sedan.

Stewart and her former Merrill Lynch & Co. broker Peter Bacanovic have been accused of obstructing an investigation into Stewart's sale of her ImClone Systems Inc. stock, a company founded by her friend Sam Waksal, just before ImClone shares tumbled on news that health regulators had rejected a key drug application by the company.

Prosecutors claim Stewart and Bacanovic changed phone logs and instruction orders to cover up the timing of the stock sale. If convicted of the most serious charge, securities fraud, Stewart faces up to 10 years in prison. The trial is expected to last six weeks.

Due to the media frenzy surrounding the case, 30 prospective jurors--who read books, made small talk and even dozed while waiting their turns--were questioned behind closed doors. Goldman described the press interest as "extraordinary," Reuters reports, and is worried that jurors' privacy will be violated by the high-profile case.

A few fans of the lifestyle guru braved the cold to show their support, including John Small, the editor of SaveMartha.com. He appeared in a chef's hat and apron that proclaimed: "She didn't do the crime, but she sure can do the thyme!"

"I think Martha Stewart is on trial for being Martha Stewart," he added.

Results from a Reuters/DecisionQuest poll released on Monday night showed that only 27 percent of Americans would find Stewart guilty if they served on her jury.

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