In the ongoing saga over whether Anna Nicole Smith gets a hefty chunk of her late husband's oil fortune, a Texas jury found the former Playboy pinup undeserving and awarded the entire billion-dollar estate to her former stepson.
For Smith, the ruling doesn't mean much since she technically dropped out of the case months ago after a U.S. bankruptcy judge in California awarded her $475 million, roughly half the estimated billion-dollar estate of her late 90-year-old husband, J. Howard Marshall II. Smith had claimed that the Texas oil tycoon promised her the money before he died in 1995.
While the California judge agreed with Smith's story, the jury in Houston did not. After hearing five months of testimony and deliberating less than three days, jurors ruled E. Pierce Marshall, the youngest of Howard Marshall's sons, as the sole heir, a decision that may bolster his appeal of the California judgment.
"I just think she was a gold-digger who wanted his money. She didn't treat him right," said Celia Mayfield, one of nine women on the 12-person jury.
In their ongoing four-year inheritance feud, the younger Marshall had accused "Miss Cleavage" (as he calls her) of trying to pocket a plus-sized amount of her elderly husband's change, even though she was not mentioned in any of the tycoon's six wills.
For her part, Smith's lawyers submitted documents that allegedly showed Pierce Marshall trying to take control of his father's assets. Before dropping out of the Houston trial, the buxom ex-pinup even accused Pierce Marshall of trying to kill her. When she could not back up her claim, the probate judge, Mike Wood, threatened her with perjury and contempt of court charges.
Rusty Hardin, Pierce Marshall's attorney, said he was pleased with the jury's verdict and expressed confidence that the federal decision in Smith's favor would not stand.
"Anna Nicole is a dying candle that will burn less and less bright," Hardin told reporters outside the courtroom. "She is never going to get a dime."
Smith's lawyer, Tom Cunningham, vehemently disagreed.
"This is obviously an attempt to throw a roadblock in that judgement, but I don't think they're going to be successful," he told Reuters.
The Texas jury also rejected the claim of older brother J. Howard Marshall III, who had been written out of the will and teamed up with Smith to block his younger sibling from the inheritance after their dad died. The jury ordered him to pay $35 million in damages and legal fees to Pierce, his family and lawyers, a costly hit that could erase the Howard III's $26 million personal fortune and possibly force him into bankruptcy.
After the jury announced its verdict, a devastated Howard III comforted his wife as they walked out of the court room without talking to reporters. The 33-year-old former Guess? Jeans model did not attend Wednesday's hearing.
Smith, a ninth-grade dropout and former chicken restaurant worker, met Marshall in 1991 while she was a dancer in a Houston strip club. In 1994, the then-26-year-old model married Marshall, who was 89.
He died 14 months later, but not before promising her half his fortune, Smith claimed.