NEW YORK – Martha Stewart (search) will soon be stepping into the future with a lighter foot. Stewart's electronic ankle bracelet comes off at "12:05 tonight," she told The Associated Press on Wednesday, adding with a smile that the prospect of being rid of it fills her with "nervous excitement."
The 64-year-old domestic guru's probation officer told the AP that she's allowed to snip the rubber band on the anklet herself, freeing her from what she has called her "hideous" confinement at her 153-acre estate in Katonah, in Westchester County.
She said the electronic device "has to be delivered with the transmitters tomorrow" — that is, handed over to federal authorities on Thursday.
For more than five months, including a three-week extension of the house arrest (search) for violating probation rules, Stewart was forced to stay at her home for all but 48 hours a week, her every move tracked electronically by federal authorities. In one Internet chat with fans, she said of the anklet: "I hope none of you ever has to wear one."
Chris Stanton, the chief federal probation officer in New York, said any offender could remove the bracelet after midnight of the last day of house arrest.
Stanton said there was a standard procedure for regaining full freedom.
"We advise the offender in advance that unless they otherwise hear from us, at 12:01 a.m., they can cut the bracelet off — it's just a rubber band," he said. Then, "all monitoring will cease."
If Stewart is monitored from now on, it'll be by media hordes that have followed her since she was released from a West Virginia prison five months ago.
Stewart was sentenced last year to five months behind bars and five months of house arrest after she was convicted of lying to authorities about her 2001 sale of about 4,000 shares of ImClone Systems Inc. (IMCL) stock.
Stewart had expected to shed the anklet on Aug. 10, but her house arrest was extended by three weeks because of an unspecified probation violation. She reportedly was seen riding in an off-road vehicle on her estate and attended a yoga class nearby.
She will be on probation for a year and a half, meaning that until March 2007, she is not allowed to get drunk, own a gun or leave the federal court district (for her other homes in Connecticut, Maine and the Hamptons, for example) without permission. She must meet with her probation officer whenever requested and submit monthly reports on her activities, and she cannot associate with other convicted felons unless she wants to become an informer.
If she does violate the rules and gets caught, the terms of her probation would likely be tightened, including a return to home confinement, electronic anklet and all, Stanton said.
Despite the electronic shackle, Stewart has been active, especially in her flagship magazine, Martha Stewart Living (search), where she's been writing about cooking mussels, choosing paint colors, sifting flour and determining whether yeast is fresh.
Freed from home confinement, she'll be much more visible — with two new television shows.
"Martha," her syndicated weekday lifestyles show, premieres Sept. 12. "It's a how-to show with entertainment and a live audience," Stewart told reporters last week on the sprawling set of the show. "It's not a talk show — I don't see a couch anywhere."
"The Apprentice: Martha Stewart (search)," a weekly NBC prime-time series, premieres Sept. 21.