Plot Said Too Simple as Stewart Case Nears Jury

Updated from 3:49 p.m. EST

Martha Stewart and Peter Bacanovic are too fastidious to have hatched a conspiracy as sloppy as the one prosecutors have portrayed in the pair's criminal obstruction trial, Stewart's lawyer said Tuesday as jurors prepared to begin deliberations.

Attorney Robert Morvillo argued that only a "confederacy of dunces" would have come up with such a shoddy lie -- not Stewart and Bacanovic, who "paid attention to detail in their everyday life."

"If they sat down to rig a story, wouldn't they have made it consistent?" Morvillo asked. His tack is daring, acknowledging differences in Bacanovic and Stewart's stories but arguing they do more to refute than support the case against them.

Morvillo's closing argument was followed by a brief rebuttal in which Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Seymour agreed the co-defendants are smart but said "smart people make mistakes." Jurors will receive the judge's instructions Wednesday morning and then begin their deliberations.

The majority of Tuesday's session comprised Morvillo's summation.

"I ask you to acquit Martha Stewart," Morvillo implored. "I ask you to let her return to her life and improve the quality of life for all of us. If you do that, it's a good thing."

Stewart and Bacanovic are accused of lying about the circumstances of a Dec. 27, 2001, sale of ImClone Systems stock by Stewart that came one day before the shares were hammered by an FDA setback. Each of the charges against them carries a five-year maximum sentence.

Jurors were asked by Morvillo to consider whether Stewart and Bacanovic would have been more careful about certain details if they had in fact conspired to lie. Wouldn't they have agreed on things like "Who talked to whom on Dec. 27?", "Who else can support their story?", "What to say if asked whether they'd spoken about an investigation?", and "the date of their $60 conversation?" Morvillo wondered.

The last point pertains to the pair's contention that Stewart unloaded her roughly 4,000 ImClone shares under an informal stop-loss agreement that kicked in at $60. The government believes no such agreement existed, and argues that Stewart sold the ImClone slug after a Bacanovic clerk Douglas Faneuil tipped her to selling by the family of ImClone's founder Sam Waksal.

"No one in this trial, including Doug Faneuil, has testified that the $60 conversation didn't take place," Morvillo said. He called Faneuil, whose testimony is central to the prosecution's theory, "the living definition of reasonable doubt."

Because Morvillo's summation was among the last things the jury heard before beginning deliberations, some wondered if he would use it to break the heretofore unified front Stewart and Bacanovic have presented. The famous defense lawyer largely avoided that strategy, focusing instead on the government's efforts to establish criminal intent on the part of the co-defendants.

Speaking about their discussions in weeks following the ImClone trade, Morvillo said, "There isn't a shred of evidence that what was going on at any of these meetings that was bad, improper or conspiratorial."

Morvillo did make one statement that drew a distinction between his client and her broker, saying, "There's no evidence that Martha Stewart thought there was anything wrong with that trade," and adding that his client and Bacanovic "weren't on the same page -- they weren't even in the same book."

Earlier, in the second half of his closing argument, Bacanovic lawyer Richard Strassberg played on the possible division more explicitly.

"In many ways, Peter Bacanovic has been the victim," Strassberg said. "In the government's case against Miss Stewart, he was caught in the crossfire. This has been a nightmare for him."

The jury will have the option of convicting or acquitting Stewart and Bacanovic either together or individually.

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