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Archive for Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Martha Stewart trial opens

Fans stand by style guru

January 21, 2004

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— Martha Stewart waved to her supporters, strode into a Manhattan courthouse and repeated a plea of not guilty at the formal start of her stock-trading trial Tuesday.

The 62-year-old millionaire gracious-living guru stood in court and nodded at the first batch of jurors, who were interviewed one by one in a judge's private robing room.

"Not guilty," Stewart said five times, speaking almost inaudibly and nodding as she re-entered her plea to five criminal counts related to her 2001 sale of nearly 4,000 shares of ImClone Systems.

Stewart, in a dark overcoat, clutched two bags as she stepped out of a black town car and said "Good morning" while passing a phalanx of cameras. She then climbed the courthouse steps and briefly waved to two fans standing in the freezing cold, including a man wearing a "Save Martha" chef's hat and matching apron.

U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum told potential jurors that opening statements should begin next week.

The trial is expected to last into March.

Stewart faces 30 years in prison and penalties of $2 million, although she would likely receive far less under federal sentencing guidelines if convicted.

Stewart is the highest-profile figure to stand trial for fraud since the government began its crackdown on corporate corruption two years ago.

She became the queen of home decor and amassed a fortune as the head of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which stamped her style on everything from magazines and recipes to bed linens and bath towels.

Her legions of supporters argue she is being targeted because of her celebrity status.

"This is a witch hunt," said Linda Smith, who took a two-hour bus ride from New Jersey to stand outside the courthouse in support of Stewart. "Martha's public believes her, believes in her innocence."

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