NEW YORK – Martha Stewart (search) faces a federal judge Friday to learn her sentence for lying to investigators about a stock sale — completing her downfall from paragon of domestic style to likely white-collar prisoner.
Experts on federal sentencing guidelines expect Stewart, 62, to get 10 to 16 months in prison, although she may be allowed to remain free while she appeals her conviction.
Since the celebrity homemaker was convicted March 5 on four criminal counts, hundreds of fans have flooded the judge with letters begging for leniency.
"This woman is to homemakers what Einstein was to science and Freud was to psychiatry," wrote Eleanor Flomenhaft of Hewlett Harbor, N.Y. "It would be a great waste to put this person in prison."
Another fan, Frank J. Wimberly III of Louisville, Ky., said Stewart should be shown mercy because "she has contributed something priceless to America, something thought lost — a sense of its finer self."
Stewart and her former stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic (search), were convicted of lying to investigators about why Stewart sold 3,928 shares of ImClone Systems Inc. (IMCL) stock in December 2001, just before the price plunged.
Prosecutors said it was because of a tip that now-jailed ImClone CEO Sam Waksal (search) was selling his shares, but Stewart and the broker maintained they had a prior plan to sell ImClone at $60 per share. It now trades around $80.
The sentencing is up to Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum of Manhattan federal court, who presided over the trial.
In the event of a prison sentence, lawyers for Stewart are expected to ask the judge to delay her incarceration date while they challenge her conviction in the federal appeals court in New York.
Stewart's lawyers had asked the judge to declare the federal guidelines unconstitutional based on a June 24 Supreme Court decision that said Washington state judges could not impose harsher sentences than state guidelines based on facts that had not been presented to a jury.
But Cedarbaum, in a one-paragraph, handwritten opinion earlier this week, denied the motion, adding: "The sentencing guidelines applicable to this case do not require any enhancement by the judge."
Defense lawyers, in sealed papers, have asked Cedarbaum for a sentence of community service, according to a person close to the case who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
But Timothy Hoeffner, a Philadelphia white-collar attorney not involved in the case, said the judge is unlikely to deviate from the guidelines — and at least some prison time — "given the high-profile nature of this case and given the current backlash against corporate fraud."
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons (search) would determine in which prison Stewart does her time, most likely a minimum-security women's facility in Danbury, Conn., or Alderson, W.Va.
The judge also has the option of allowing Stewart and Bacanovic to serve as much as half of their sentences in halfway houses, or in home confinement — a punishment that would require them to wear electronic monitoring devices.
Stewart lawyer Robert Morvillo will argue on appeal that the conviction is tainted by what he has called lies told by a juror in order to get on the panel, and a perjury indictment against a government witness from the trial.
"We continue to believe that the unprecedented double perjury — by both a key government witness and a juror — prevented Martha Stewart from receiving a fair trial," Morvillo said earlier this month.
Cedarbaum has already turned down two requests for new trials filed by Stewart and Bacanovic. In the most recent decision, the judge said "overwhelming independent evidence" supports the guilty verdict.
Criminal defendants have the option of speaking in court just before they are sentenced, a procedure called allocution. Many apologize for their crimes and ask the court for mercy.
But Stewart — who has not spoken out in court since pleading not guilty to the charges against her — is unlikely to make such a statement because it could jeopardize her appeal, legal observers say.
"She has to be consistent in proclaiming her innocence in order to continue with the appeal," Hoeffner said. "I don't expect to see her sitting and acknowledging guilt and breaking down and crying in court. I would be very, very surprised if that happens."