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Martha loses bid for early release
U.S. judge denies the lifestyle expert's plea for a new sentence.
April 11, 2005: 4:23 PM EDT
By Krysten Crawford, CNN/Money staff writer
Stewart is allowed to leave her Bedford, N.Y. home for up to 48 hours a week. She asked for 80 hours.
Stewart is allowed to leave her Bedford, N.Y. home for up to 48 hours a week. She asked for 80 hours.
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Martha's Odyssey

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Martha Stewart's hopes for an early release from house arrest were dashed Monday when her request for a new sentence was rejected.

U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum denied a request Stewart made last month seeking to be freed from home confinement four months before her scheduled August release. Alternatively, Stewart had asked that terms of her detention be relaxed, including the removal of an electronic monitoring device from her ankle.

In denying the petition, Judge Cedarbaum said Stewart's original sentence was appropriate.

"Defendant Stewart should not be treated differently from any other person convicted of the crimes of which she was convicted," wrote Cedarbaum in a ruling signed Monday.

Judge Cedarbaum sentenced Stewart last July to five months in prison, five months of home detention and two years of probation following her conviction a year ago on criminal charges related to a personal stock sale.

Stewart, 63, completed her prison term early last month and has been mostly confined to her Bedford, N.Y. home ever since. She's allowed to leave her property for up to 48 hours per week for select reasons, including for work.

The possibility that Stewart could be resentenced arose following a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in a separate case. In January, the nation's highest court found that federal sentencing guidelines are merely advisory and not mandatory. That decision effectively gave judges more control over the punishments meted out in criminal cases.

In response to that ruling, appeals courts around the country have sent back criminal sentences for review by lower courts, thereby raising the possibility that existing sentences would be discarded and lighter punishments imposed.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded Stewart's sentence during an hearing on the lifestyle maven's appeal in March. Stewart has denied throughout her three-year-old legal case that she broke any laws when she sold her stake in ImClone Systems on the eve of a public announcement that sent company shares sharply lower.

Judge: sentence was reasonable

Stewart received the lightest sentence possible under federal guidelines. In letters of Judge Cedarbaum over the last month, Stewart's lawyers argued that Stewart has served her time and should be released early or else be allowed to leave her home for up to 80 hours a week.

They said the demands of her company also justified a relaxed sentenced.

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, the media and merchandising company, has been struggling from steep advertising losses and other revenue shortfalls in the wake of its founder's legal woes.

The company's shares have fallen 45 percent, to about $20.40, after reaching a 52-week high in late February.

Stewart and Martha Stewart Living CEO Susan Lyne told Judge Cedarbaum that the company needs more of her time than allowed under home detention rules. They singled out two television deals that Martha Stewart Living struck while Stewart was in prison and said they had underestimated the amount of time Stewart would need to spend developing the shows while under house arrest.

Prosecutors, in opposing Stewart's request, countered that the original sentence was lenient. "Minor inconvenience to one's ability to star in a television show is an insufficient ground for resentencing," government lawyers argued in a court filing.

Judge Cedarbaum appeared to agree with prosecutors and called Stewart's argument "circular, to say the least."

"The business arrangements entered into by defendant Stewart prior to or during her time in prison were made with full knowledge on her part, and on the part of other parties to those arrangements, of the terms of her supervised release, including five months of home detention," wrote Cedarbaum. "Neither she nor they had any right to expect that those business arrangements would persuade me that the conditions of home confinement or the term of supervised release should be changed."

Judge Cedarbaum also wrote that she would have imposed the same sentence on Stewart even if she were not bound by federal sentencing guidelines.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Stewart's lawyers said they were "disappointed" in Judge Cedarbaum's ruling. "All (Stewart) was seeking was the same opportunity for reconsideration as others in her position, and the chance to spend more hours at work."

Martha Stewart Living officials, in a separate statement, said they too were disappointed, but said Stewart has so far "made a tremendous and positive impact since her return" and would continue to do so, notwithstanding the limits of home confinement.

A decision on Stewart's appeal is expected as early as this month.

Guess how much money Stewart made in 2004.  Top of page

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