Martha Stewart Defense Takes Just Twenty Minutes

26 February 2004

The case for the defense in the Martha Stewart prosecution lasted less than twenty minutes -- a strategy many see as a monumental gamble by the media maven's colorful lead defense attorney Robert G Morvillo.

The lawyer hopes (although not as fervently as Stewart) that his showy stratagem will demonstrate the prosecution's failure to make a convincing case against his client; also that the defense has shot down the prosecution evidence.

Less than twenty minutes were devoted Wednesday to questioning a single witness, lawyer Steven Pearl, who accompanied Stewart to a meeting with government investigators in February 2002. Pearl took notes at the meeting and prepared a memorandum summarizing the discussions.

His memorandum noted that Stewart told investigators she did not know at what time Peter Bacanovic [her stockbroker at Merrill Lynch and a co-defendant in the trial] left her a message on December 27 2001, the date she sold her ImClone stock.

Defense and prosecution lawyers will meet Friday with Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum to discuss the instructions she will give jurors next Wednesday. Closing arguments are expected on Monday and Tuesday.

The strategy adopted by Stewart's legal team puts her fate squarely in the mouth of Morvillo, who will present the closing argument to the jury. "The defense lawyer's performance now becomes everything," believes former federal prosecutor Eric R Havian.

"Essentially what you've got is the laundry-list closing argument," Havian explained. "You have to go back through the trial and point out every place that a government witness was tripped up, told an inconsistent story, appeared nervous or uncertain, had something to gain by implicating the defendant."

Morvillo, a lawyer with marked showbiz instincts, has cast himself in the starring role. On his emotive summation of the defense case [and Morvillo-watchers assure there'll not be a dry eye among the jury] rests the freedom and future of an American homemaking icon.

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