Defense: Astor 'obsessed with will'

April 28, 2009 4:25:26 PM PDT
In a blistering evisceration of the District Attorney's case, the defense insisted that Brooke Astor was fixated on her will and that, although she suffered dementia, she was not mentally incompetent at the time she signed an amendment to her will in 2004 directing much of her vast fortune to her only son. "She was obsessed with her will," said Frederick Hafetz, who is the lead attorney of Astor's son, Anthony Marshall, who is accused of looting his mother's estate.

"Witnesses will tell you it was sitting on the coffee table," Hafetz said.

Hafetz conceded Mrs. Astor suffered from dementia in the final years of her life, but claimed that no expert medical witness will testify that someone with Alzheimer's is necessarily incapable of making serious, life decisions.

"As sure as night follows day, she was capable of understanding exactly what she was doing," he said.

Nonetheless, he reminded the jury that it was up to the prosecution to prove the allegations.

His opening argument is not yet complete.

The 84-year-old Marshall, allegedly took advantage of his mother's declining mental state in the years prior to her death in 2007, at the age of 105. His co-defendant, Francis Morrissey, an attorney, is charged as an accomplice.

Her original will stipulated that most of the money be distributed among her favorite charities, or what she referred to as "my crown jewels of New York." But, in 2004, according to the prosecution, Marshall and Morrissey tricked her into signing an amendment to her will assigning much of Astor's vast $200 million fortune to Marshall. Morrissey is accused, specifically, of forging Mrs. Astor's signature.

This, despite the fact that her original will guaranteed Marshall a 5,000 square-foot apartment on Park Avenue, a 64-acre estate in Westchester and $5 million in cash, among other things.

Among the 60 witnesses expected to testify at the two-month trial are Astor's friends Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state; David Rockefeller, the banker; Annette de la Renta, wife of fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, and Barbara Walters.


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