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Defendants in Anna Nicole Smith Due in Court for Hearing

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Two doctors and the lawyer-boyfriend of Anna Nicole Smith are due in court to hear what government witnesses have to say about their alleged roles in supplying drugs that killed the celebrity model.

A preliminary hearing for Howard K. Stern, Dr. Sandeep Kapoor and Dr. Khristine Eroshevich is scheduled Tuesday before a judge who will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to order them to stand trial.

All three have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to illegally provide Smith with controlled substances. The hearing is expected to take two weeks with a parade of witnesses including attorney general investigators, pharmacists, acquaintances of Smith and experts on the interaction of various drugs.

Attorney Adam Braun, who represents Eroshevich, said the evidence disclosed at the hearing may be surprising, but the outcome of the proceeding before Superior Court Judge Robert Perry is predictable.

"Preliminary hearings represent the lowest possible hurdle for a prosecutor to clear and are virtually impossible for a prosecutor to lose," he said. "If the prosecutors in this case somehow can't make it past the preliminary hearing, they should be laid off."

Braun said he was unlikely to call any witnesses of his own.

"Given the general futility of the exercise, Dr. Eroshevich will listen intently to the prosecutors' allegations and reserve her defense for maximum surprise at trial," he said.

The case will start with testimony from state attorney general investigators who probed the case for more than two years before a decision was made to bring charges.

Steve Sadow, the Atlanta attorney representing Stern, said he had not yet decided whether to call defense witnesses but would try to make his case through aggressive cross-examination. He expects some colorful witnesses, including the investigators.

Ellyn Garafalo, who represents Kapoor, said it was unlikely she would call defense witnesses at this stage of the case. But she said it was too early to discuss strategy.

District attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons declined comment.

Smith died of a drug overdose on Feb. 8, 2007, in a Florida hotel room. Prosecutors call Stern an aider and abettor of the two doctors and allege that he obtained prescriptions for Smith under false names.

Search warrant affidavits suggest Stern put his name on prescriptions for opiates that were given to Smith, and claim 44 different medications were prescribed for Smith under a number of other names, including Stern's.

Stern is named in all 11 counts of the complaint. The doctors each face six counts, including conspiracy, and if convicted could be sentenced to as much as five years, eight months in prison. It was not clear what sentence Stern might face if convicted.

Sadow has said outside court that his client should not be blamed for Smith's death because Stern was relying on the doctors to treat the former model, whom he said was recovering from an illness at the time of her death.

Smith's death was a cause celebre as was her life. Last week, The Associated Press reported exclusively on newly released files that showed the FBI investigated a never-substantiated report that Smith plotted to kill her tycoon husband's son as they battled for his father's fortune.

Smith's FBI records say the agency investigated Smith in 2000 and 2001 in a murder-for-hire plot targeting E. Pierce Marshall, who was at the center of a long legal fight to keep the starlet, model and one-time stripper from collecting his father's oil wealth, valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The younger Marshall died three years ago of natural causes.

Smith was 26 when she wed the 89-year-old J. Howard Marshall II, owner of Great Northern Oil Co. They met while she was a topless dancer at a Texas strip club.

The battle over the money remains unresolved with Stern, Smith's mother, and another boyfriend all fighting over an estate that ultimately may go to Smith's daughter, now 3.

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