Could Martha Have a Get-Out-of-Jail Card?

updated 06/07/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/07/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

For a few hours she seemed like the Martha Stewart of old. Touring the Easton, Conn., garden of a friend on May 22, she lunched on lobster salad and chocolate soufflé cake and expressed delight with both the food and the ferns. "That's the Martha I really know well, just full of enthusiasm," says another guest who was there.

What may have buoyed her spirits: The day before federal prosecutors charged a Secret Service ink expert with perjury during testimony at Stewart's trial in February—a development that had her legal team calling for a new trial and insisting her conviction should be overturned. Stewart appeared to another friend only cautiously optimistic that the stunning turn of events could work to her advantage.

The restraint seems well-placed. According to the complaint against him, Larry Stewart (no relation) misled the jury by exaggerating his role in the analysis of pen marks on her broker's stock records. So far, though, it has not been shown that the conclusions drawn from that analysis were wrong. What's more, prosecutors say that the disputed document played no role in the charges on which Martha Stewart was convicted—obstruction of justice and lying to investigators regarding the sale of her ImClone stock. "My view is Larry Stewart is a flash in the pan" and that the conviction will not be overturned, says former SEC lawyer Seth Taube.

Martha Stewart's lawyers are pursuing other avenues of appeal, but at this time she is scheduled to be sentenced on June 17, when she could face a year or more in prison. "This woman has been through an unbelievable nightmare," says a friend. "She is surviving. She believes very much in her own innocence."

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