Friday, April 2, 2004

New trial for Stewart unlikely

Her lawyers would have to prove effect of juror's background

The Associated Press

NEW YORK - Martha Stewart's claim that one of the jurors who convicted her lied about his arrest record is unlikely to win her a new trial, legal experts said Thursday.

Lawyers for the homemaking authority argued in court papers Wednesday that she deserves a new trial because juror Chappell Hartridge failed to disclose a 1997 arrest on charges of assault and stealing from a Little League organization.

Stewart lawyer Robert Morvillo said he would not have selected Hartridge had he known the man was accused of threatening to kill the woman he was living with and throwing her into a statue in her apartment.

But experts said that even if Stewart proved that Hartridge was dishonest, she would have to show that his background affected deliberations.

"They really have to show that this juror was simply unfit to serve, that he had some kind of bias that prevented Martha Stewart from receiving a fair trial," said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor.

Hartridge did not return a message left at a number listed in his name; an alternate number at his Bronx address was out of service.

Trial experts said that to prove the charges leveled by Stewart's lawyers, Hartridge would have to testify at an evidentiary hearing, which a judge would avoid at all costs.

"Judges want to avoid the perception that jurors themselves are being put on trial," Mintz said. "This could open up a sideshow."

U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum has not ruled on Stewart's request. A spokesman for the government, Marvin Smilon, said prosecutors are reviewing the filing.

Stewart was convicted March 5 of obstructing justice and lying about her sale of a block of biotechnology stock just before it plunged in price. She faces sentencing June 17 and is widely expected to get 10 to 16 months in prison.

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