Jury Set for Stewart Stock Fraud Trial - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

01/26/04 - New York

Jury Set for Stewart Stock Fraud Trial

A jury of eight women and four men was chosen Monday to hear Martha Stewart's stock fraud trial. Lawyers for the government and defense were expected to present their opening statements beginning Tuesday.

Six alternates - four men and two women - also were selected.

In a defeat for Stewart, U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum ruled that the defense may not argue that she is being prosecuted for asserting her innocence and exercising her right to free speech. Cedarbaum also ruled that the defense may not ask jurors to speculate why Stewart was not charged with insider trading.

The judge instructed jurors not to pay attention to the enormous publicity that has surrounded the case for more than a year.

"If you see a headline about the case, turn the page. Look at another story," Cedarbaum said. "If you hear something about the case, change the channel."

The day began with 53 potential jurors waiting to hear whether they would be chosen as lawyers for both sides met behind closed doors to select the final 12 plus alternates.

Stewart, 62, is accused of lying to investigators about why she sold 3,928 shares of ImClone Systems stock on Dec. 27, 2001 - just before it dropped sharply on a negative government report about an ImClone cancer drug.

The domestic entrepreneur claims she and her co-defendant, stockbroker Peter Bacanovic, had a pre-existing arrangement to sell the stock when it fell to $60. The government says Stewart was tipped that ImClone founder Sam Waksal was trying to sell his shares.

Stewart is also accused of deceiving shareholders in her own company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and trying to prop up its stock by declaring in 2002 that she was innocent in the ImClone investigation.

It took four days of one-by-one questioning last week for a federal judge to narrow down a pool of 165 jurors to the group who were cleared to be part of Monday's final round.

The pool included some potential jurors who identified themselves as fans of Martha Stewart, and some who saw her extensive television interviews with ABC News and CNN.

The judge allowed those jurors to stay after they assured her they could be fair and impartial and decide the case strictly based on the evidence.

The judge claimed the unusual step of closing jury selection was needed to ensure a fair jury. She agreed to release transcripts of the juror interviews, minus the names.

Last week, 17 news groups, including The Associated Press, filed court papers arguing Cedarbaum violated the First Amendment. The appeal was heard Monday by a federal appeals court, but no ruling was immediately issued. While the appeal comes too late to affect the Stewart trial, it could affect future cases.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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