Dispatches From The Martha Stewart Trial

The Short Happy Life of Chappell Hartridge

Likelihood the conviction will stand
Thursday, April 15, 2004: 98 percent
Despite new evidence that a juror lied, the chance that Stewart’s conviction will stand remains at 98 percent.

By now, we can be reasonably certain of one thing: Stewart juror Chappell Hartridge is regretting ever having set foot in front of a TV camera.

A month ago, Hartridge was, briefly, a working-class hero, the computer technician from the Bronx who (probably) earned less per year than Martha Stewart spent on her now-legendary Mexico/Panama vacation, who knew lies when he saw them and wasn’t impressed by celebrities in the courtroom, who proudly suggested that the verdict was a “victory for the little guy” and a “message to bigwigs.” Now, thanks to his 15 seconds of fame, Hartridge is (presumably) watching as he is transformed into a misogynist, drug-abusing criminal who beats up women, fathers muggers, defaults on loans, steals from Little Leaguers, and—need we say it?—lies to the government.

After another two weeks of rummaging through Hartridge’s past, Stewart’s defense team has released strong evidence that Hartridge did not make a mistakeon his jury questionnaire, as the government suggested, or misunderstand what information he was required to provide. Instead, he probably just lied. According to the defense, Hartridge omitted at least 10 material facts from his questionnaire—facts that, the defense argues (convincingly), would have resulted in a cause challenge.

For example, to the question, “Have you or has a family member or close friend ever been questioned by law enforcement, accused of, charged with, or convicted of any crime?Hartridge apparently failed to mention not only his own assault arrest but his son’s conviction for attempted robbery. To the question,Have you or has anyone close to you ever been sued by someone?Hartridge apparently failed to recall the numerous default judgments entered against him and his wife for nonpayment of bills, and the service papers containing headings like “IMPORTANT!! YOU ARE BEING SUED!!” (which were, for obvious reasons, released by the defense). New witnesses have also provided additional sworn affidavits about Hartridge’s alleged embezzlement from a Bronx Little League organization, cocaine abuse, and termination from Citibank.

Not surprisingly, Hartridge is less accessible than he was in the days following the verdict, when he was omnipresent. In those days, according to the sworn affidavit of a Stewart PR representative (reporting second-hand information), he told a morning show producer that, if the network wasn’t going to pay him to appear, she should “get the [expletive deleted] out of here, you’re wasting my time.” Now, with the tide of public sentiment running hard the other way, Hartridge’s Bronx phone number is “not in service.”

Of course, although it is probably of little consolation to the Hartridge family, this brouhaha really has little to do with Chappell Hartridge. For the two powerful constituencies fighting over him, as well as the ancillary constituencies feeding off the carnage (the media, for example), he is simply a means to an end. Similarly, although the defense is understandably outraged about the government’s apparent selectivity in this prosecution—indignation inflamed by the government’s sermons denying selectivity and vowing that lying won’t be tolerated by anyone—Stewart and her team must know that, as it pertains to her legal situation, unfairness is irrelevant.

The defense has probably by now proven the first of two “tests” required for Stewart to earn a new trial: that Hartridge lied and that, had he told the truth, he would have been challenged for cause. What the defense hasn’t proven is that Hartridge had a bias that reflected his impartiality (for a discussion of this issue, please see the previous dispatch). Now that the briefs have been filed, Judge Cedarbaum will presumably decide whether the defense has made enough headway in this argument to warrant a hearing.

In other news, the New York Daily News is reporting that a Stewart-Bacanovic juror regrets voting to convict Peter Bacanovic and says that the jurors violated their prohibition against reading press coverage of the case. Specifically, the juror says, the jury discussed the high cost of Stewart’s Hermes handbag (estimates range between $6,000 and $12,000) and the hourly rate that she was paying Bob Morvillo to represent her ($1,000?). In a related legal brief, Peter Bacanovic attorney Richard Strassberg, who received an unsolicited confessional phone call from the juror after the verdict, argues that this “prejudicial extraneous information … exacerbates the bias reflected in the statements made by juror Chappell Hartridge.”