The hearing to determine who will gain custody of Anna Nicole Smith's remains may be winding down, but on Wednesday, the drama was just revving up.
During the week's second full day of testimony, amid an increasingly circus-like atmosphere, a teary Virgie Arthur took the stand to rebut accusations she was profiting from her daughter's death, Howard K. Stern divulged the sources of his own income and the medications taken by Smith prior to her death, and Judge Larry Seidlin confirmed that his ruling over the disposition of Smith's body would come by week's end.
Smith's mother, Arthur; the model's companion, Stern; and her former lover, Larry Birkhead—and the trio's respective legal teams—were all back in a Broward County courtroom Wednesday morning to continue testimony to determine who will be named Smith's next of kin.
As the hearing commenced, Seidlin announced he would issue a ruling on the matter early Friday. He had said as much during Tuesday's session, after the coroner called to say Smith's body was decomposing at a faster than expected rate and would not be viewable for much longer.
While Stern was due back on the stand, and Birkhead was primed to testify, it was Arthur who was first up for questioning.
Arthur, as anticipated, countered several claims made by Stern on Tuesday. While discussing Smith's childhood, in which she described her daughter as a funny tomboy who had an affinity for frogs, she denied that she and Smith had since become estranged.
Arthur said that while her contact with her daughter diminished over the years—going from getting mother-daughter manicures to living in separate states—it never burned out as Stern claimed. She said she spoke with Smith on the telephone every three or four months and that it was only when Stern entered into Smith's life, in the mid-'90s, that her contact was severely curtailed.
"Off and on—not very often," Arthur, a Texas cop, said of her conversations with her daughter. "She'd call me in the middle of the night" in a "drugged" condition. Per Arthur, Stern was the cause of their waning communiqués.
Arthur also testified that she felt a "special bond" with Birkhead, whom she claims she only met in the wake of her daughter's death last week. She said Birkhead helped her find where her grandson Daniel had been buried.
Stern and Smith, she said, had banned her from attending the young man's funeral, but Birkhead had left flowers on Daniel's grave along with a note he signed with his full name. Arthur found her grandson's unmarked plot after spotting Birkhead's name on the letter.
Then, things turned especially testy.
On cross-examination by Stern's lawyer, who questioned her motives for wanting Smith's body, Arthur was asked repeatedly about potentially profiteering from her daughter's death.
Arthur broke down. After a brief recess while Arthur regained her composure, she answered the question in the negative, denying she had received or expected to receive any remuneration.
After Stern's lawyer asked whether Arthur had signed a contract with Splash Media for $30,000 to chronicle her journey to the Bahamas following Smith's death, Arthur turned the tables, accusing Stern of being the one profiting from Smith's passing.
Arthur claimed that the only reason why Stern was fighting for custody of Smith's remains was so that he could film the funeral and pawn off the million-dollar exclusive to Entertainment Tonight.
At that point Seidlin warned again of making character assassinations and said that money or compensation that either Stern or Arthur may have received was a private matter.
He also defended the courtroom proceedings, which had gotten more than animated, saying, "There's no circus here, my friend."
Arthur also spoke more directly to the matter at hand, stating where she believed Smith wanted to be buried in the family's Texas plot. Arthur also expressed a desire to exhume Daniel's body and have the remains relocated to the state.
The court recessed to deal with a number of housekeeping issues and, during the break, Stern, Birkhead and Arthur headed to the medical examiner's office, where they viewed Smith's body. They were met at the coroner's office by throngs of media, sparking a debate when court resumed as to whether someone in the courtroom had leaked the information.
Arthur took the stand again, and said that David Lee, a journalist working with Splash Media, was a close family friend and had accompanied her to the morgue. She claimed that she did not tell Lee the purpose of her visit to the morgue, but could not account for why Splash Media had a helicopter above the building before the major players themselves showed up.
Arthur also backed off her stance that she had not received any remuneration from the media, saying that Lee had paid for a roundtrip airline ticket for both her and her sister-in-law from Houston to the Bahamas in the wake of Smith's death. A video was taken during the trip, although Arthur claimed she had nothing to do with its having been disseminated.
Then it was Stern's turn. As he again took the stand he was faced with similar questions as to his financial relationship to the media. Stern acknowledged that he had made deals with ET in the past, but that the entertainment show never footed any of his bills for his home in the Bahamas or for his ongoing lawsuits. He also denied that he tipped off the media about the field trip to the morgue.
Stern was also forced to answer questions regarding his own finances, and testified that he had not held a paying job since 2003, when he was compensated for his work on E!'s reality series, The Anna Nicole Show (E! Online is a division of E! Networks). He said that he received about $12,000 for his work on the series and that since then, his lifestyle has been entirely funded by his retired parents and Smith, who paid for everything from his meals to his clothes to the $950 monthly rent for his Los Angeles apartment.
Stern also disclosed that he stands to receive 6 percent of the nearly $100 million inheritance due Smith from her late oil tycoon husband, J. Howard Marshall II. (The sum is being appealed.)
He also got into a battle of words with Seidlin, who chastised Stern's editorializing on straightforward questions and talking over the judge.
"I don't want to argue with you," Seidlin said. "But don't think I'm buying the Brooklyn Bridge here, either.
"For the next day and a half, we're going to follow the path that the court wants."
Seidlin then questioned Stern's lawyers on the state of mind of Smith in footage that aired in court Tuesday in which she dissed her mother. Seidlin said it was important to know whether Smith was suicidal or on some type of drugs.
"Is this necessary?" Stern asked. "Anyone who cares about Anna Nicole would not conduct this inquiry."
When pressed, Stern admitted that Smith had been on prescription medication, including the migraine medication Topamax, various painkillers and antidepressants and, at times, methadone, for the past three years. He also said the Smith had been to rehab.
He denied, however, that Smith was impaired while appearing on the screened footage.
"I think that Anna had a very clear head at times," Stern said. "Other times it was not as clear."
Stern also struggled to explain how a copy of Smith's will was apparently faxed by lawyer Ron Role five days before her death. He also said he didn't know anything about Bahamian officials allegedly investigating forged checks related to Smith.
Birkhead finally took the stand toward the end of the marathon hearing. He said that he received payment and royalties for photos of he took of Smith and Daniel dating back to 1999. He said he never received direct payments from media outlets for interviews, however, he did note that sometimes he would be paid for his photos used in conjunction with said sit-downs.
Birkhead, who told the judge he lives in a $1,500-a-month apartment in Burbank, California, said that Stern repeatedly tried to "interfere" with the photographer's relationship with Smith, possibly out of jealousy. Birkhead also tearfully testified that Stern kept Smith supplied with duffel bags full of drugs. He said he tried to stage an intervention with Smith at her L.A.-area home in 2006, but to no avail. Smith, with Stern, eventually moved from L.A. to the Bahamas.
At the end of the hearing, the judge said he was "very impressed" with Birkhead's demeanor.
Seidlin also offered some parting words on the ongoing question of paternity, a dispute that will not be answered during this hearing.
"You guys are going have to work on your conscience," he said to Stern and Birkhead.
Everybody's set to be back in the courtroom for more fun on Thursday, with Birkhead resuming his testimony about 10:30 a.m. ET.