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Local reaction mixed on Stewart verdict

March 06, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Is it "a good thing" that domestic diva Martha Stewart was convicted on all counts Friday for lying to the government about her well-timed stock sale?

"I said good. Because I believe she was guilty," said Juledith Marshall, 34, of Hagerstown.

"She shouldn't be treated special because she's a celebrity," Marshall said.

There were no jokes about pastel coveralls or cell cuisine from local residents interviewed by The Herald-Mail on Friday. Instead, there was concern Stewart would - or would not - get prison time.

"Anybody can make a mistake like that," said Barbara Van Metre, 60, of Martinsburg, W.Va. Van Metre said Stewart was only doing what her stockbroker told her to do when she sold her ImClone Systems stock the day before it was announced that the Food and Drug Administration had rejected ImClone's application for approval of a cancer drug.

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Convicted of obstructing justice, conspiracy and making false statements, Stewart could face up to 20 years in prison.

Berkeley County, W.Va., Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said with no prior criminal history, she would be surprised if Stewart gets prison time.

"Is she remorseful? Heck, no. That woman has no remorse," said Games-Neely, who has prepared some of Stewart's recipes.

While Van Metre guesses Stewart was guilty, she doesn't think the domestic wizard should spend time in prison.

"Just fined," she said.

Whereas Marshall thinks Stewart should get prison time, but probably won't.

Vicki Wolford didn't agree with the verdict.

"I sat there and bawled when they did it," said Wolford, 51.

"I think she was set up," Wolford said. "I think it's because she's a woman."

Think about how many people are guilty of murder and don't get convicted, Wolford said.

"I just think men get away with more than women," she said.

Wolford, whose Halfway home is full of Stewart's decorative products like drapes, towels and bedspreads, said she e-mailed Stewart to express her support.

Stewart's conviction won't keep Wolford from buying more of Stewart's products, she said.

Nor would it for Marie Jamison, 37, of Hagerstown. Jamison said she buys Stewart's products sometimes, if she likes them.

Pat Mills, 65, of Williamsport, also will continue to buy Stewart's products.

"I like her cooking show and stuff she has in Kmart," Mills said outside the Kmart in Valley Plaza.

Pat Mills said she was concerned about what would happen to Stewart's TV show on The Food Network and the fate of her employees' jobs.

Washington County Commissioner Doris J. Nipps was concerned the government spent a lot of money pursuing a case against Stewart when there are people that have done more egregious things, such as losing stockholders' money.

"She's small potatoes and I think they're trying to make an example of her," said Nipps, who gets Stewart's magazine.

As a member of the Hagers-town-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's Management Book Club, Nipps read a profile of Stewart that drew mixed reaction from club members.

Some people admired Stewart's accomplishments, while others thought she was too ruthless for a woman, Nipps said.

"To be truthful, she's not the only one that's done something bad. I think they're going after her more because of who she is. She's a woman and men have done worse and gotten off," said Kathy Wallech, who lives near Williamsport.

"She knew what she was getting into though. I can't say she didn't," Wallech said.

Wallech, who has won numerous awards over the years at the Washington County Ag Expo for her baking, canning and gardening, said she would still watch Stewart's cooking shows.

Fred Starr, who runs Starr Investment Services in Boonsboro, said he doesn't think Stewart is "as pure as the white-driven snow. I think she's a scapegoat and I think she's a scapegoat of the real corporate crime that goes on in America today."

Starr said Stewart will probably get slapped with a fine. If she gets prison time, Starr suspects it will be in a "country club" prison.

The fines the government issues in such cases are laughable because they are pocket change to most of these people, Starr said.

Ron Eyler, owner of the interior decorating firm D&R Interiors on Jefferson Boulevard, said it seems Stewart was pursued more aggressively than the average person would have been.

Stewart, who avoided more than $51,000 in losses by dumping her ImClone stock when she did, had her company's stock plummet Friday upon news of the conviction.

If she had it to do all over again, she'd probably have taken the ImClone stock loss, Eyler said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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