Martha Stewart abandons fight to stay out of prison

Martha Stewart, the lifestyle icon convicted of lying and obstructing justice in an insider trading trial earlier this year, said yesterday she was dropping her fight to stay out of jail and wanted to serve her sentence as soon as possible.

"I want to put this nightmare behind me. I want to reclaim my good life and good works and allow others to do the same," she said in an emotional announcement at the Manhattan headquarters of her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. True to her persona as the perfect housekeeper, Stewart, who was given a five-month sentence, said she wanted to be free in time to plant her spring garden next March.

Stewart had fought tooth and nail to stay out of prison pending an appeal of her sentence. The trial judge, Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, had granted Stewart's request for a stay, enabling her to remain a free woman while her lawyers continued to contest her case.

Her change of heart appears to have been motivated by business concerns. Advertisers with her lifestyle magazines complained that their interests would be better served if she simply did her time and allowed the cloud to be lifted from herself and her company.

Shortly after her sentencing in July, executives at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia announced a round of financial losses they blamed on "negative effects of Martha Stewart's personal legal situation".

The 63-year-old entrepreneur was a byword for domestic perfection until she was caught up in an insider trading scandal concerning shares in the bio-medical company ImClone Systems run by a friend of hers, Samuel Waksal. According to prosecutors, she sold her stock in the company following a tip from Mr Waksal in late 2001 that the Food and Drug Administration was about to criticise a new cancer drug in development. Stewart was not convicted of insider trading, but she was found guilty of obstructing justice and lying to investigators.

She was aware that the appeals process could be slow, but last week she learnt it was likely to be delayed well into next year because lawyers for her former stockbroker and co-defendant, Peter Bacanovic, had asked for more time. Stewart understood her appeal would be delayed so it could be heard concurrently with his.

Yesterday she told a news conference: "While I and my attorneys firmly believe in the strength of [my] appeal, recent delays and extensions have now made it abundantly clear that my appeal will not be heard until some time next year. So I have decided to serve my sentence now."

She also said she found the prospect of prison "frightening and difficult". And she added: "I am very sad that I will miss the holiday seasons Hallowe'en, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years - always an opportunity to celebrate family, friends and religious traditions that mean so much to many of us."

Ms Stewart's lawyers hope she can serve her sentence at a minimum security camp for women in Connecticut, where she has one of her two homes.