Prosecution in Stewart Trial to Rest Its Case Next Week

The government expects to rest its case against Martha Stewart (search) and her former broker next week, and jurors are likely to begin deliberations in the stock-fraud trial sometime in March.

Lead prosecutor Karen Patton Seymour told the judge the government would finish presenting its witnesses before Feb. 20. She said she expected to have a more precise estimate Friday.

Stewart lawyer Robert Morvillo said he expected Stewart's defense to take up to three weeks — "if we put on a defense." Legal experts say it is highly unlikely Morvillo will gamble by not offering his own witnesses.

The lawyers gave U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum their estimates as court concluded Wednesday. The trial, in recess Thursday for Lincoln's Birthday, was to resume Friday morning.

Stewart and former broker Peter Bacanovic (search) are accused of lying to investigators about why Stewart sold 3,928 shares of ImClone Systems stock on Dec. 27, 2001, just before it plunged on a negative government review of an ImClone drug.

The Food and Drug Administration (search) approved the drug, Erbitux, on Thursday as a treatment for colorectal cancer patients who have run out of other options.

Prosecutors in the Stewart case have called 11 witnesses, including an FBI agent and a Securities and Exchange Commission (search) official who gave details of what prosecutors say were Stewart's lies in early 2002 as she tried to explain the sale.

Perhaps the most damaging so far has been Ann Armstrong, Stewart's assistant, who testified that Stewart altered a record of a message from Bacanovic on Dec. 27 — just before she was to be quizzed by the government on the sale. Stewart immediately told her assistant to change it back again, Armstrong testified.

Lawyers for Bacanovic did not provide the judge with an estimate Wednesday of how long their case might take. But they suggested in pre-trial hearings that it would be at least a week.

The FBI agent, Catherine Farmer, is to return to the stand Friday for more cross-examination by John J. Tigue, one of Stewart's lawyers.

Tigue has tried to suggest that Farmer's notes of Stewart's interviews with the government on Feb. 4 and April 10, 2002 — the only government record of the interviews — may be incomplete.