Martha Stewart Leaves Prison, Heads Home

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03-04-05 - KATONAH, N.Y. (AP)- Martha Stewart staged a tightly choreographed and low-key return home from prison early Friday, arriving at the $16 million New York estate where she will remain under the watch of federal authorities while trying to revive her homemaking empire.

Stewart was driven to the 153-acre estate 40 miles north of midtown Manhattan after landing about 2 a.m. at Westchester County Airport in a private jet. She later was seen walking around inside her Winter Home with her daughter, Alexis.

For the next five months, Stewart must wear an electronic anklet so authorities can track her every move. But she is allowed to receive her $900,000 salary again and can leave home for up to 48 hours a week to work, shop or run other approved errands.

Her journey home began about 12:30 a.m. Friday, when two dark-windowed sport utility vehicles slipped out the gates of the women's prison in Alderson, W.Va., and drove to a nearby airport.

There, Stewart — casually dressed in a gray-and-white poncho, dark jeans and ankle boots — smiled and waved to supporters as she walked across the runway and boarded the plane for New York.

"The experience of the last five months ... has been life altering and life affirming," Stewart said in a statement issued on her Web site. "Someday, I hope to have the chance to talk more about all that has happened, the extraordinary people I have met here and all that I have learned."

Stewart, 63, who also has homes in Connecticut, Maine and the Hamptons, chose the Katonah estate, which she bought in 2000 for $16 million, to be her prison until August.

Besides running Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. and writing a column for her magazine, Stewart can prepare for the two television shows that she'll be starring: a revival of her daily homemaking show and her version of NBC's "The Apprentice" hosted by development billionaire Donald Trump.

Stewart hopes to turn around the fortunes of a company that produces everything from television shows and magazines to bed sheets and bakeware. In 2004, the company suffered a loss and its revenues sagged, but the stock price rose considerably during her prison stint as investors bet on a Stewart comeback.

Her contract with her company says her salary, which was suspended while she was behind bars, will get reinstated during home detention. Details about where Stewart will work will be determined in the next few days at a meeting with her probation officer.

While in home confinement, Stewart will be free to entertain colleagues, neighbors, friends and relatives — as long as they're not criminals. Convicted felons aren't allowed to consort with other convicted felons.

"Right now, as you can imagine, I am thrilled to be returning to my more familiar life," Stewart said in the statement. "My heart is filled with joy at the prospect of the warm embraces of my family, friends and colleagues. Certainly, there is no place like home."

During her time at the federal women's camp in Alderson, Stewart foraged for dandelions and other wild greens, concocted recipes in a microwave and even ate from a vending machine. She also participated in nightly yoga classes, spent time on crafts and writing and lost weight.

Stewart even took on inmate rights, saying her fellow prisoners risked falling into a "severe depression" because of false hopes raised by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down federal sentencing guidelines. Her own sentence, however, was ruled "reasonable" in light of that ruling.

Stewart's release came one day shy of the one-year anniversary of her conviction in New York on charges stemming from her 2001 sale of nearly 4,000 shares of the biotechnology company ImClone Systems Inc. She was convicted of obstructing justice and lying to the government.

Rebuffed twice in her attempts to obtain new trials, Stewart opted to enter prison early rather than remain free pending her appeal.

Since she has already served her time, her lawyers say the appeal is mostly about clearing her name. An appeal hearing is scheduled for March 17 in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan.


Associated Press writer April Vitello, in Alderson, W.Va., contributed to this report.