At the End, Shock, Stoicism and Tears


By Kate Hazelwood It all happened so fast. A morning reply from the judge to a query from the jury sent the night before, followed by a leisurely lunch for the journalists and spectators awaiting a verdict. Then, at two minutes before 2 p.m. on Mar. 5, as we streamed back inside U.S. District courthouse in lower Manhattan, one of the security guards coached us to hurry along. "The courtroom's filling up," he said.

It sure was. My pew seat had been taken, but I squished in anyway. We smelled like wet dogs from the humidity and rain outside. We hadn't been told that a verdict was coming, but there were enough clues. For one, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, David N. Kelley, had showed up with his prosecution team, holding what looked like a folded-over sample jury questionnaire form. Another clue? Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum's husband had taken her to lunch, but instead of leaving afterward, he stayed behind and took a seat in the courtroom.

Cederbaum entered the courtroom at about 3 p.m., and wasted no time. "We have received a verdict and we should get the jury," she said solemnly, her voice softer than usual. The jurors entered, and Cederbaum announced she would read the verdicts on each of the counts aloud.

SHOCK AND INCREDULITY. The first Stewart guilty verdict, on the charge of conspiracy, brought an audible gasp. And the palpable sense of shock grew more pronounced with each additional "guilty," the spectators' expressions of surprise ranging from a stunned "No way!" to a smattering of muttered obscenities. The shock seemed only to grow as Cedarbaum finished with the verdicts against Stewart and began reading out the guilty counts against Stewart's ex-broker and co-defendant, Peter Bacanovic.

A couple of journalists actually started crying. Then, we all looked at each other and asked The Question: Had anyone seen Martha's reaction? There was a collective leaning-over-the-railing, as we strained to get a glimpse of her profile. She had the same emotionless gaze that she had maintained throughout the trial. The doyenne of domesticity stood stoically, and stared straight ahead.

Cedarbaum set sentencing for June 17, 2004, then dismissed the courtroom with a bang of the gavel. Stewart, Bacanovic, and their legal teams turned and made their way out, facing the gallery for the first time. Bacanovic's attorneys looked sucker-punched and dejected. The color had drained from Bacanovic's face. Yet, Stewart still seemed resolute and unshaken.

ICY COMPOSURE. Courtroom denizens will tell you such stoicism isn't all that unusual after a guilty verdict -- and it seemed almost understandable, given the numbness Stewart must have felt. Yet, she walked right past her daughter, who had sat in the front row of the trial every day and was crying openly. No hugs -- not even an exchange of glances.

One juror, Chappell Hartridge, later agreed to answer media questions, suggesting, at least to me, that the defense erred in not putting Stewart and her broker on the witness stand. After hearing testimony about how, more than two years ago, both defendants failed to respond quickly and forthrightly to federal investigators, some jurors didn't appreciate that the pair declined to offer their own side of the story at trial, Hartridge said. Perhaps, the juror speculated, Stewart and Bacanovic somehow felt they were "special and didn't have to abide by the same rules as everybody else."

He continued: Stewart's attorney Robert Morvillo "did the best he could with what he had?ut the prosecution made a strong case." Hartridge said he hoped the verdict would send a message to the public: "Maybe it's a victory for little guys who lose money thanks to these kinds of transactions, or who've lost money in their 401(k)s due to corporate scandals causing stock losses."

Perhaps this was a victory for "little guys." Maybe Martha Stewart really does consider herself a breed apart, and maybe she does treat people rudely. But this trial was a sad spectacle, and there was no glee or sense of a resolution with the verdict (see BW Online, 3/5/04, "A Guilt-Edged Guide to Martha's Future")

PARENTS' PAIN.?If you could have watched Peter Bacanovic's father show up for the testimony every day, you would understand why. As the trial went on, permanent grooves of worry creased his face. Usually, he sat alone or alongside his wife, Bacanovic's mother, straightening his tie from time to time. During breaks, he walked with his son, sometimes behind him, offering him pats on the back. When the verdict was announced, Baconovic's mother exited in tears, muttering under her breath, "My son didn't do this! He's lost everything!"

U.S. Attorney Kelley said afterwards that the victims in the Martha Stewart case were law-abiding citizens who depend on honesty, fairness, and transparency in their institutions. "We will not and cannot tolerate dishonesty and corruption in any judicial process," Kelley said, noting that the defendants had been convicted of a coverup. "This type of conduct will not be tolerated." The prosecutors are, I'm sure, celebrating their victory. But I cannot imagine anybody else who sat through it feeling very good about the ending. Hazelwood covered the Stewart trial for BusinessWeek and BusinessWeek Online


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