Martha's Fraud Trial Begins in Earnest

01/21/2004 AT 05:34 PM EST

Martha Stewart went to the Manhattan Federal Courthouse Tuesday and her stock-fraud trial was in the bag -- or, bags, actually.

As pointed out by several critical observers (including New York's Daily News) the domestic diva was toting a $6,050 Birkin bag from Hermes and a $1,125 carry-all from the same exclusive French boutique. Her ensemble: a chocolate-colored pantsuit and high-heeled platform boots. Her hair: highlighted and layered.

The Daily News even went so far as to posit that she looked like a million bucks. The New York Post placed a $12,000 pricetag on Stewart's Birkin bag.

Far more serious was the reason Stewart, 62, was there: to do some observing of her own, of the pool of potential jurors who will decide her fate in her stock-fraud trial. She also quietly re-entered her pleas of "not guilty," according to reports.

The juror questioning was conducted in secret Tuesday as the high-profile trial began in earnest, reports the Associated Press. Nearly 40 people filed into a judge's chambers to answer questions, and about 12 made the first cut, says the news service.

More prospective jurors are expected Wednesday and throughout the rest of the week, until, eventually, 12 jurors and six alternates will be selected. Opening statements in the trial are expected next week.

Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum barred reporters from Tuesday's session -- which Stewart reportedly sat through nervously, armed with a notepad and her legal team -- but ordered a transcript of the first day's questioning to be released Wednesday.

Stewart is accused of lying to investigators about why she sold nearly 4,000 shares of ImClone Systems Inc. stock on Dec. 27, 2001. The next day, the government issued a negative report on an experimental ImClone drug, sending the stock plummeting.

She has long insisted that she and her ex-stockbroker Peter Bacanovic, 40, who is also standing trial, had a pre-existing agreement to unload Stewart's shares when the stock price fell to $60.

The five counts carry a total prison sentence of 30 years and penalties of $2 million, although Stewart would likely receive far less under federal sentencing guidelines if convicted, says AP.

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