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For a woman as smart and talented as Martha Stewart, it's unfortunate that she never learned the value of being able to admit when she's been wrong, to apologize and walk away.

Instead, after Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum sentenced her to five months in prison and five months under house arrest following her obstruction of justice trial, Stewart reacted with righteous indignation.

"This is a shameful day," she said outside the courthouse afterward. "Shameful for me and my family and my beloved company and all its employees and partners. What was a small, personal matter became an almost fatal circus event of unprecedented proportions."

In other words, shame on the people who prosecuted her, and on the journalists who said nasty things about her, but no shame on herself for thinking she could lie to federal investigators about a stock sale, and get away with it.

If I were Stewart, I would have admitted my unfortunate lapse in judgment, apologized for the misery I caused, and gone quietly off to prison. She could have been home by Christmas and about to start serving her five months of cushy house arrest in her mansion.

Instead, she has vowed to fight her conviction. As one Court-TV reporter pointed out, even if she wins her appeal, she'll have to stand trial all over again. And because there's ample evidence that she did what she was convicted of, she will have wasted a lot more time and money. Better to just suck it up.

Stewart was right to say that the public latched onto her legal troubles with unseemly glee. But she was wrong to dismiss her offense as only "a small personal matter." It was her own hubris in believing she could get away with concocting a ridiculous alibi that led to the huge financial setbacks to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and resulted in the layoffs of 200 employees.

Given Stewart's refusal to take responsibility, I was glad Judge Cedarbaum didn't yield to the suggestion that, instead of going to prison, Stewart be allowed to do community service at a women's center in the Bronx, where low-income women make curtains and other household products. What kind of punishment would that have been? Stewart can do that kind of thing with her eyes closed.

Stewart's stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic, drew an identical term for conspiring with her. Which leaves Douglas Faneuil, the young broker's assistant who wound up being a pawn in the conspiracy between the two of them. One of the biggest scandals of this case was how Stewart and Bacanovic tried to pin the responsibility for their actions onto this young man, who became the prosecution's chief witness against them. Faneuil deserves nothing harsher than probation.

Stewart vowed that she'll "be back." She urged people not to shun her company's products because of what happened to her. And, in fact, after the sentencing, her stock rose 37 percent.

"Our magazines are great," Stewart pleaded. "Our products are great. They deserve your support." They were the truest words she said that day.

Sheryl McCarthy is a Newsday columnist.

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