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NYC heir, 89, sent to prison in Astor theft case

An 89-year-old heir to a famous fortune was headed for a prison Friday after years of fighting his conviction on charges of plundering millions of dollars from his philanthropist mother, Brooke Astor.

A judge ordered Anthony Marshall to start serving his one- to three-year term. Marshall was sentenced in 2009 but had been free on bail during an appeal. He lost a series of requests to get a new trial and to stay out of prison because of his failing health.

"I take no pleasure in following my duties," said Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice A. Kirke Bartley said, who had sentenced Marshall to the minimum for his conviction.

Astor was a fixture of New York society before she died in 2007 at 105, and her charitable largesse was recognized in 1998 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's top civilian honor. She had inherited the money from her third husband, Vincent Astor, a great-great-grandson of real estate and fur magnate John Jacob Astor, one of the United States' first multimillionaires.

Marshall arrived in the courtroom in a wheelchair with his wife, Charlene, crying and caressing his shoulder. He declined to speak during the brief proceeding, looking downward but showing little reaction.

The judge read parts of a letter from one of Marshall's sons, Alex, urging the court to spare him prison.

"Please consider all the good that my father has done for this country. ... My father once said, about the events that happened before the case, that, `you can't change the past,"' Bartley quoted the letter as saying, urging Marshall to allow his son to get back in contact with him.

Prosecutors said Marshall, a decorated World War II veteran and former U.S. ambassador, exploited his mother's failing mind to loot her millions. After she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, he bought himself pricey gifts, including a $920,000 yacht, with her money; took valuable artwork off her walls; and engineered changes to her will that gave him control of most of her estate, including millions that had previously been earmarked for her favorite charities, the Manhattan district attorney's office said.

Marshall's lawyers said that she knowingly changed her will to benefit her only child and that he had legal authority for gifts he gave himself from her money. His lawyers and doctors also have said that a prison term could kill Marshall, saying he suffers from Parkinson's disease, depends on a wheelchair and can't get out of bed, go to the bathroom, bathe, or dress himself without help.

After losing a series of appeals, lawyers for Marshall and co-defendant Francis Morrissey Jr., a former estates lawyer convicted of forging Astor's signature on a change to her will, filed papers last week seeking a new trial and asking that both remain free. Bartley rejected that request and sent Morrissey, 72, to prison on Thursday.

Morrissey was convicted of forging Astor's signature on a change to her will. His defense argued that if the signature was phony, he knew nothing of it.

Morrissey's lawyers indicated they would continue an appeal that hinges on a sworn statement from juror Judi DeMarco, who said she felt threatened when another juror made hostile gestures, cursed at her and started toward her during deliberations. DeMarco said she then felt demoralized when she asked to get off the jury but Bartley instead told the panel to keep deliberating civilly.

"I was tired and beaten and felt totally alone" and finally "acquiesced in guilty verdicts that I did not in good conscience believe were legitimate," DeMarco, herself an attorney, said in the June 8 statement.

Her claims were part of Marshall's and Morrissey's unsuccessful appeals; the state court's Appellate Division concluded the jury tensions "appeared to resolve themselves, and there is no reason to believe that the ultimate unanimous verdict, confirmed by polling (asking whether each juror agreed with the verdict), was the result of coercion." But the defense lawyers argued the new statement merited at least a hearing.