NEW YORK – After four months of testimony that cast a harsh light on the operatic lives of East Coast social royalty with tales of greed, abuse and bitter family feuds, a jury on Thursday convicted the son of legendary philanthropist Brooke Astor of tricking her into changing her will.
The jury, which deliberated 11 days, found Anthony D. Marshall guilty on 14 of the 16 counts against him, including grand larceny involving the theft of cash and art, possession of stolen property and conspiracy to defraud Astor.
The philanthropist, who died in 2007 at age 105, was known for her lavish donations to New York’s most venerable institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library.
Estate attorney Francis X. Morrissey, who faced trial alongside Marshall, was convicted of all five counts against him, the most serious of them forgery for allegedly altering Astor’s will to divert her nearly $200 million fortune to her son. He faces up to seven years in prison, while Marshall, 85, could receive up to 25 years.
“I’m stunned by the verdict,” defense attorney Frederick Hafetz said. “We’re greatly disappointed, and we will definitely be appealing.”
Marshall, a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer and former U.S. diplomat, sat stonelike as the jury forewoman read each verdict aloud.
His wife, Charlene Marshall, gripped the side of a wooden bench in the public gallery and stared straight ahead, wide-eyed and unblinking. After the jury was dismissed, she stood behind her husband, stroking his head.
The prosecution had presented a gargantuan case that included 72 witnesses but was based largely on circumstantial evidence.
Most of the witnesses, who included Barbara Walters, Nancy Kissinger and Annette de la Renta, the wife of designer Oscar de la Renta, could not testify as to Astor’s mental condition during the precise moments when she signed changes to her will.
Instead, they recalled moments when they had seen her in apparent states of confusion, a result of Alzheimer’s disease.
Prosecutors said Morrissey and Marshall took advantage of Astor’s diminished mental state to coerce her to change her will and give Marshall proceeds from sales of valuable artwork. Their witnesses included Astor’s former butler, chauffeur, maids and nurses who tended to her needs at her Park Avenue apartment, her seaside home in Maine and her estate in Westchester County.