Sat, 05 Mar 2005
From: Reuters

From jail, Martha Stewart jets off toward home

Larry Downing, Reuters/Alderson, West Virginia

Martha Stewart, the lifestyle trendsetter who built a media empire, was set free from a West Virginia prison early on Friday after serving five months for lying to investigators about a stock trade.

She was released at 12:30 a.m. (local time), slipped into a vehicle that passed reporters and camera crews waiting outside the prison gate and made the 30-minute ride to a local airport, where more journalists waited.

At the airport she and her daughter Alexis emerged from the vehicle and stepped into the glare of TV cameras that lit up a private jet, smiled broadly and waved to two dozen or so fans, several of whom shouted cries of support, and disappeared into the jet.

She wore blue jeans and a fashionable knit poncho over a green turtleneck.

She said in a statement on her website: "The experience of the last five months in Alderson, West Virginia, has been life altering and life affirming ... You can be sure that I will never forget the friends that I met here, all that they have done to help me over these five months, their children, and the stories they have told me."

Stewart, whose trial and sentencing last year captured national attention, was flying to her 153-acre suburban estate in Bedford, New York, to resume a whirl of TV and media projects despite having to serve a further five months of house arrest.

Wearing an electronic surveillance bracelet and monitored by federal authorities, Stewart, 63, will be allowed to leave her home for 48 hours weekly to go to her office.

And she has plenty to do. Pending projects include a new television show, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, a spin-off of the popular Donald Trump reality TV show, to be produced by Mark Burnett, who also created the hit show Survivor.

She also will have a new daytime cooking and lifestyle TV show and will resume collecting her $900,000-a-year salary plus bonuses as the creative force of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

"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," she said in the posted statement.

Stewart, who resigned as chairman and chief executive of the company, is reportedly in talks with the Securities and Exchange Commission in hopes of being allowed to resume a leading executive role.

In her five-month absence, the value of stock in her company has more than doubled. It is a far cry from last year when, in the wake of her conviction, the stock price sank, CBS dropped her TV show and advertisers shunned her company magazines.

Stewart has been busy in prison.

According to her magazine Martha Stewart Living, she has foraged for dandelion greens to improve the prison fare, whipped up impromptu microwave recipes, taught yoga, read Bob Dylan's autobiography, made a ceramic Nativity scene for her mother and crocheted toy opossums for her dogs.

In anticipation of getting out, she ordered seeds and made to- do lists.

Fans were just as excited. The Web site www.savemartha.com featured a clock counting down the minutes until her release and suggestions for throwing a "Free Martha" party -- Trade recipes and serve a spring-like buffet.

Stewart, who built a catering company into a media empire of lifestyle magazines, cookbooks and television shows, was found guilty in March 2004 of conspiracy and making false statements.

She will have 72 hours after her release to report to the probation department in White Plains, New York, officials said. A probation officer will set up an appointment to install an electronic monitoring system in her home.





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