Lawyers Deliver Closing Arguments in Stewart Trial

04 March 2004

Just days after the Oscars ceremony, Martha Stewart's defense lawyer Robert G Morvillo made an early bid for next year's awards with a three-hour closing monologue.

With a string of rhetorical flourishes, Morvillo implored jurors not to find the US homemaking guru guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice, denouncing the government's case as "built on speculation".

As is now well known, Stewart's charges relate to her sale of shares in biotech firm ImClone one day before their price slumped. Stewart and Merrill Lynch broker Peter Bacanovic (her co-defendant) claim they had an agreement to sell if the price dipped below $60 (€49.34; £32.75); prosecutors contend this is just a story to cover up the real reason for the sale -- that Bacanovic tipped off Stewart that ImClone's boss was dumping his shares.

One of Morvillo's concluding arguments was that the accused duo are too intelligent to commit so stupid a crime. "If two very bright, successful people like Peter Bacanovic and Martha Stewart wanted to sit down and rig a story, wouldn't they make that story consistent on at least the major aspects of it?" he asked.

Morvillo then set about undermining the prosecution's lead witness, Douglas Faneuil, former assistant to Bacanovic. He described Faneuil, who testified that he informed Stewart of the ImClone sales, "stressed, frenzied, hurried, harried, perhaps even ecstatic" -- the latter adjective referring to the witness's earlier confession to occasional drug use.

Bacanovic's lawyer Richard M Strassberg also attacked Faneuil (albeit more prosaically), claiming he was "twisting the facts". Strassberg begged the jury to clear his client, who he argued was "such a good guy".

In response, lead prosecutor Karen Patten Seymour took an hour-and-a-half to refute the defense arguments. "It's about the truth," she insisted. "From the moment when [the defendants] were first asked about this stock sale, they did their best to suppress the truth."

The jury is now considering its verdict. When asked what he thought jurors made of his theatrics, Morvillo replied: "They're going to tell me in about three days how I did."

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff