Published October 08, 2009
NEW YORK – Brooke Astor's 85-year-old son was convicted Thursday of exploiting his philanthropist mother's failing mind and helping himself to her nearly $200 million fortune.
Anthony Marshall now faces a mandatory jail sentence of at least one year — and perhaps as many as 25 years.
Jurors delivered their verdict on the 11th full day of deliberations, ending a five-month trial that revealed the New York society doyenne's sad decline. She was 105 and had Alzheimer's disease when she died in 2007.
The jury convicted Marshall of 14 counts, including first-degree grand larceny and scheming to defraud, but acquitted him on two charges, falsifying business records and another first-degree grand larceny count.
His co-defendant, estate lawyer Francis X. Morrissey Jr., was convicted on five charges, including scheming to defraud, conspiracy and forgery.
Marshall, wearing a dark suit, looked at the jurors as they were polled. Morrissey, 66, looked down but didn't betray any emotion. They will remain free on bail until their Dec. 8 sentencing. Morrissey faces up to seven years in prison.
"I'm stunned by the verdict," said Marshall's attorney, Frederick Hafetz. "We are greatly disappointed in it, and we will definitely appeal."
After the jury left the courtroom, Marshall's wife, Charlene, stood at the rail with her hand on Marshall's shoulder, her eyes glistening. When reporters asked her for a response, she said only, "I love my husband," and gave him a brief hug. The couple walked out of the courthouse, hand in hand, to a waiting limousine.
The trial offered a peek into high society from Park Avenue to Palm Beach as prosecutors told a Dickensian tale of upper-crust money-grubbing with a deteriorating grande dame at its center.
The case put Astor's famous friends, including Barbara Walters and Henry Kissinger, on the witness stand and her dark final years on display. Jurors heard how a beau monde benefactor renowned for her elegance and wit became a disoriented invalid fearful of her own shadow.
Marshall was accused of a range of tactics — from scheming to inherit millions of dollars to simply stealing artwork off her walls. Morrissey was accused of helping manipulate Astor into changing her will to leave Marshall millions of dollars that had been destined for charity.
Astor's last will, created Jan. 30, 2002, left millions of dollars to her favorite charities. Amendments in 2003 and 2004 gave Marshall most of her estate.
Prosecutors portrayed Marshall — a former U.S. ambassador and Tony Award-winning Broadway producer — as a greedy heir who couldn't wait for his mother to die, buying himself a $920,000 yacht with her money but refusing to get a $2,000 safety gate to keep her from falling.
Defense lawyers said Astor was lucid when she bequeathed the money to her only child and that he had legal power to give himself gifts while she was alive. She was keenly focused on her will, and she loved her son, they said.
The trial delved into Astor's shadowy mental state, health problems, finances and family relations. Jurors got crash courses in topics ranging from estate planning to handwriting analysis.
Prosecutors called some 72 witnesses. Many of them testified about Astor's mental confusion in the last years of her life.
Walters described using a photo album to help Astor recall guests at her 100th birthday bash during a visit only months later. Kissinger testified that Astor didn't recognize former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a party she threw for him in 2002.
Astor's third husband, Vincent Astor, was the son of multimillionaire John Jacob Astor IV. She took charge of her husband's philanthropic work after his death in 1959. Her efforts won her a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1998.
Marshall is her son from a previous marriage to stockbroker Charles "Buddie" Marshall, who died in 1952.
The criminal case against Marshall and Morrissey came after one of Astor's grandsons asked a court to remove Marshall from handling her affairs.
Philip Marshall accused his father of abusing Astor by letting her live in squalor while he looted her fortune.
A civil case concerning her will has been on hold while prosecutors pursued the criminal charges.