Dispatches From The Martha Stewart Trial

The End

Chance of conviction
Friday, March 5, 2004: 100 percent
The Martha Meter jumped from 40 percent to 100 percent as the verdict was delivered: Stewart was convicted on all four counts, Bacanovic on four of five.

I thought it would be close; it wasn’t. I thought there was reasonable doubt; there wasn’t. I thought if I were wrong, the aftermath would be sad; it was.

Just after lunch on Friday afternoon, a buzz developed outside the courtroom. First, the rumor was that there was another “note.” Then that there was “news.” Then, when we had all settled on our benches and observed that the head of the U.S. attorney’s office and the husbands and/or wives of several of the players had begun to appear, the rumor was that there was a verdict.

As the jury filed in, not a single juror glanced in Stewart’s direction. An experienced trial observer had just explained to me that if the jurors smiled at Stewart as they walked in, she would be acquitted, so this was the first clue. As Judge Cedarbaum read the verdict, Martha Stewart did not so much as flinch.

Conspiracy: guilty.
False statements: guilty.
False statements: guilty.
Obstruction of an agency proceeding: guilty.

These words hit the courtroom like punches; I can’t imagine how hard they must have hit her. Seconds later, in the benches behind Stewart, her daughter, Alexis, was weeping, and two members of her media team were in tears. Stewart’s own expression never changed. 

Peter Bacanovic, too, remained calm as he learned that he had been convicted of conspiracy, making false statements, obstruction, and perjury (but not, interestingly, of forging the “@60” mark on the allegedly altered worksheet). As with Stewart, this news hit his family and counsel hard.

An hour later, one of the jurors, Chappelle Hartridge, explained that the jury had believed Douglas Faneuil and found Ann Armstrong’s testimony about Stewart temporarily changing the Dec. 27 phone message particularly damning (one of the many ironies of the story, given that this act wasn’t charged as a crime). In a further irony, Hartridge reportedly remarked that the verdict “was a victory for the little guy who loses money in the market because of this kind of transaction. It sends a message to bigwigs in corporations they have to abide by the law. No one is above the law.” This was ironic because, although this case has always been trumpeted as a symbol of fat-cat insiders fleecing the “little guy,” it didn’t cost anyone but Martha Stewart, Peter Bacanovic, and the government a dime (anyone, that is, except the shareholders of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, who lost $250 million Friday afternoon).

Little guys get “secret tips,” too, of course. And little guys also are rude to assistants and conspire, obstruct justice, and lie to the feds. But from the moment news of Stewart’s ImClone sale was leaked, at the height of the post-crash, post-Enron, post-Tyco rage, the themes and morals of this case have remained the same: Martha Stewart, one of the most visible symbols of the golden 1990s, was now a symbol of something else: corporate excess and greed (which, in many other cases, did ream little guys). Argue what you will about the legality of Stewart’s trade, it was a personal act, not a professional one, and no one was swindled by it. No “bigwigs in corporations” learned not to treat shareholders like dupes. No one learned anything other than that, in the current climate, if you happen to be a high-profile business executive, your personal and professional behavior had better be exemplary, because you have a gigantic bull’s-eye on the back of your head. That—and this: When the phone rings and there is a government investigator on the other end, you’ve already made your mistake (even if, in your mind, you didn’t do anything wrong). No matter how much of a bigwig you are, the phone call has just rendered you a little guy. So it’s time to brush up on words like “deference” and “respect” and go in, be forthright, and kiss the ring.

After Stewart had descended the steps of the courthouse (to a cheer) and slipped into an SUV, she posted a statement on her Web site thanking her friends, family, and supporters, reiterating her faith in the system, and announcing her intention to appeal. For a brief period, her statement also said that she took comfort from knowing that she had done nothing wrong. Then, without fanfare, this assertion disappeared.

Let the postgame begin.