Jury selection begins for trial of home guru Martha Stewart

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The Independent US

Martha Stewart is used to being in the spotlight - on television, on the covers of her magazines, in promotions for her linen - evangelising on the art of maintaining the perfect home, from the pine-scented bathroom to the copper-potted kitchen. But now her stage is to be the dock of a courtroom.

Jury selection begins today for a trial in Manhattan that may see the once-serene world of Ms Stewart come crumbling down. When testimony starts later this month, all of America will be awaiting the fate of the nation's most loved home-making guru.

The allegations against Ms Stewartdate from 27 December 2001, when she sold all of a small stake she held in a biotech company called ImClone. The transaction was worth $228,000 (£126,000), small change for her. But very soon federal investigators were chasing her. The day before, Sam Waksal, the founder and head of ImClone - and a long-time friend of Ms Stewart - had also offloaded shares in the company. He did so because he had got an early warning that the government was set to refuse approval for a cancer drug the company had been developing. Waksal, who was jailed last year for insider trading, knew the finding would crush ImClone's shares.

Prosecutors are preparing to argue that Ms Stewart acted after being tipped off by Waksal or by Peter Baconovic, the broker they both used. Although she has not been charged with insider trading, prosecutors will accuse her of trying to obstruct justice, of lying about the circumstances of her shares sale, tampering with phone records and doctoring other records. If found guilty, she could be jailed for 10 years.

The fortunes of her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, have been badly dented already. She has proclaimed her innocence, rather than going for a plea deal and the likelihood of a milder sentence. She argues that she had a prior arrangement with her broker that he would sell her ImClone shares if they fell below $60 each, as, indeed, they had.But the greatest unknown for Ms Stewart and her lawyers will be the kind of jury that considers the case. She admitted there is something about her that drives millions to loathe her. If the jurors are among those Stewart-haters, she may be doomed.

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