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Martha: Let’s get prison over with

By Erin McClam
The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Millionaire executive Martha Stewart announced Wednesday that she had decided to begin her prison sentence for lying about a stock trade as soon as possible. “I must reclaim my good life,” she said, adding she hoped to be home in time to plant a spring garden.

Stewart, 63, said she’d made the decision in order to “put this nightmare behind me and get on with my life.”

She said she hoped to start her five-month sentence right away — those close to her said that meant within weeks, not days — and be out by early next year to begin her next five months of house arrest.

“I would like to be back as early in March as possible to plant a spring garden and to truly get things growing again,” she said, adding that she would miss her pets, including two dogs and seven cats.

And she ended her 10-minute appearance with a joke, saying she had been walking through Manhattan when a man spotted her and said, “Oh, she’s out already.”

“I hope that my time goes as fast as that,” said Stewart, who grew weepy at the end. “I’ll see you next year.” Her associates at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. gave her a standing ovation as she left.

Shares in Martha Stewart Living rose 3 percent, or 38 cents, to $11.52 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock had been trading around $19 per share before Stewart’s name was tied to the scandal.

Stewart took no questions at the news conference. But her appeals attorney, Walter Dellinger, said the appeal would continue. “I believe we have a very substantial chance of prevailing on appeal,” he said.

Both Stewart and the federal Bureau of Prisons were unsure when her sentence would start.

Assuming the stay on her sentence were lifted, Stewart’s case would be reviewed by probation officials and the U.S. Marshal’s office before a prison was recommended — a process that usually takes “a couple weeks,” said Dan Dunne, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons.

It also was unclear where Stewart would do the prison time. She said she hoped to serve at a minimum-security facility in Danbury, Conn., close to her home in Westport and also to her 90-year-old mother. She would do her house arrest at an estate in Bedford, N.Y.

Officials try to send inmates within 500 miles of home. That makes Danbury the most likely destination, followed by Alderson, W.Va., 550 miles away.

With 1,373 inmates at last count, Danbury is nearly full, but Dunne said that won’t necessarily eliminate Stewart. “All our prisons are crowded,” Dunne said. “It just becomes a matter of evaluating the security needs of the inmate.”

The news conference was held at the offices of Stewart’s company, on what she called a “beautiful light-filled floor” where, among other things, recipes were tested.

Stewart resigned as CEO of her company when she was indicted and gave up her seat on the board after she was convicted. She remains its leading creative force and holds the title of founding editorial director.

“Her decision brings this matter much closer to the time when she and all of us can truly get back to business as usual,” said Thomas Siekman, chairman of the company.

Stewart, who had promised immediately after her conviction to battle to prove her innocence, had recently appeared resigned to swapping her expansive suburban home for a jail cell. After her July sentencing, Stewart said she would have no problem doing the time.

“I could do it,” she said in a July interview with ABC. “I’m a really good camper. ... There are many, many good people who have gone to prison. Look at Nelson Mandela.”

Her 10-month term was the minimum possible under federal sentencing guidelines.

A Manhattan federal judge had allowed Stewart to stay out of prison while she pursued an appeal, although lawyers said she faced an uphill fight. The same judge had twice rejected defense motions to overturn the conviction, first because a juror failed to disclose an arrest record and then after a government witness was charged with perjury.

Stewart was convicted of lying about why she sold ImClone Systems Inc. stock in 2001. Prosecutors alleged stockbroker Peter Bacanovic tipped her off that her friend Sam Waksal was dumping shares of his biotechnology company. Waksal had advance word of a negative government report on an ImClone cancer drug.

Stewart and Bacanovic maintained she sold because they had a standing agreement to unload the stock when it fell to $60.

Bacanovic was convicted and received the same 10-month sentence.