The son of Brooke Astor, the late socialite and doyenne of the New York arts who died in 2007 aged 105, was found guilty by a Manhattan jury yesterday of taking advantage of her declining faculties to plunder her almost $200m (£125m) fortune.
After deliberating for 11 days at the end of a trial that began in the dim mists of March, the 12-member jury convicted 85-year-old Anthony Marshall of 16 out of 18 charges, including grand larceny, associated with defrauding his Alzheimer-afflicted mother.
It was a shocking end to an elder-abuse trial that will stand as one of the most sensational – and protracted – in New York history.
"I'm stunned by the verdict," said Marshall's defence lawyer, Frederick Hafetz. "We are greatly disappointed in it, and we will definitely appeal."
Marshall was accused of a swindling his mother in ways that ranged from awarding himself pay increases to persuading her to sell treasured paintings and keeping the proceeds and pressuring her into changing her will to leave him more of her fortune.
As the days of jury debate dragged on, the risk of deadlock seemed to rise and some wondered if jurors had not been weighed down by prosecutors who drew testimony from 72 witnesses. Among those witnesses were celebrities and relations who had on occasion entered the world of rare wealth and privilege that Ms Astor had enjoyed. They included Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters, Annette de la Renta and a British cousin, Lord William Astor.
Though most had no direct contact with the crime, they were extensively grilled about Ms Astor's mental state and acuity in her twilight years.
Mr Marshall, who on several occasions brought the trial to a standstill because of episodes of ill-health, could spend between one and 25 years in prison, barring a successful appeal. He will be sentenced on 8 December.
His second wife, Charlene Marshall, attended court most days and found herself repeatedly depicted as grasping and deeply disliked by Ms Astor.
One witness said Ms Astor had once told her doctor that she would rather spend Christmas with her two dogs rather than "that bitch", a reference to her daughter-in-law. Mr Marshall had served as his mother's investment adviser. She had given a fortune to a variety of New York institutions over the years, including the Bronx Zoo and, most particularly, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, via the Vincent Astor Foundation, named after her late husband.
Legal experts had warned that proving the case against Mr Marshall would be tricky. "The challenge is enormous to show a woman's state of mind five-and-a-half years ago when she's no longer here," said Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor, before the trial's end.
Marshall was found guilty of one of two charges of grand larceny, the most serious that had been filed against him, and of giving himself a raise of $1m without authority. His co-defendant, Francis Morrissey, a probate adviser to Marshall, was convicted of forgery and conspiracy and could face up to seven years behind bars.
In his closing statement at the end of the trial, the assistant district attorney who led the prosecution, Joel Seidemann, noted: "It has been said that a society is judged based upon how it treats its elderly," and said that Marshall should be held "accountable for stealing from and defrauding a great philanthropist, a great New Yorker and human being in the sunset of her life."
Marshall, who reportedly spent $100,000 on his defence, is a decorated US Marine who fought at Iwo Jima as well as a former diplomat who served as US ambassador to Kenya.
While he remained outwardly composed as the verdicts were read, his wife, who is 20 years his junior, appeared to be shaking.
Defence lawyers had contended that when Ms Astor bequeathed millions of additional dollars to her son she was entirely lucid. But the prosecution said that Marshall and Morrissey had together swiped $60m that Ms Astor had pledged to charities.Reuse content