Developments in the Anna Nicole Smith saga Thursday spanned all fronts and stretched across North America—from Florida, where factions battled over her body, to the Bahamas, where police searched her home, to Los Angeles, where the paternity fight over daughter Dannielynn heated up.
Lawyers representing several key players in the drama descended upon the Broward County courthouse in Florida for the first of what will be several hearings regarding the disposition of Smith's body. Smith's companion and executor of her estate, Howard K. Stern, is facing off against her mother, Virgie Arthur. Stern wants Smith buried in the Bahamas alongside her son, Daniel, while Arthur wants the remains interred in Smith's native Texas.
Stern, who also claims to be the father of Smith's five-month-old daughter, and Arthur, who was estranged from Smith for years, are both seeking to be declared next of kin, a legal position that will grant them full control over Smith's remains and enable them to have the final say in where she will be buried. While Arthur was in court, Stern remained in the Bahamas with Dannielynn.
Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin declined to make an immediate ruling Thursday, but he did appoint independent attorney Shane Kelly to review the case, interview the principals and come up with a "roadmap" to help Seidlin reach a decision.
Seidlin asked all parties to reconvene Friday morning for a brief hearing on the embalming of Smith, with the issue of custody will resume with an evidentiary hearing Tuesday morning. During that proceeding, Kelly will present his findings, while the two sides will present evidence and witnesses to bolster their arguments.
Stern is among those expected to testify. Because a restraining order prohibits him from taking Dannielynn out of the Bahamas, Seidlen has agreed to allow Stern to remain with the child and give his testimony by telephone, provided he is in the presence of a notary who will swear him in.
Earlier, Seidlen ordered a new DNA sample be taken from Smith during the day's lunch recess, over objections from both Stern's and Arthur's lawyers and testimony from the county's medical examiner that such a move was unnecessary.
But Seidlin was adamant, saying the extra sample, to be swabbed from her mouth, would ensure that the body would not need to be exhumed in the future.
"We want to respect Ms. Smith's body," Seidlin said. "We want to treat it with the respect and dignity it deserves.
"When we bury her, I want it to be forever," he continued, adding that he would take his time to decide who should receive the remains.
"We're going to have hearings, as many hearing as we need," Seidlin said on Wednesday. "This is just a warm-up.
"This body belongs to me right now," he said. "This body's not leaving Broward County till I make a ruling."
The DNA will be used to determine Dannielynn's father. Attorneys for Larry Birkhead, who is challenging Stern's paternity in California, were also in Seidlin's courtroom and attempted to take possession of the new sample. ("We don't care about the body," said Susan Brown, one of Birkhead's legal team.)
Seidlin also appointed lawyer Richard Millstein to represent Dannielynn.
Meanwhile, the county's medical examiner, Dr. Joshua Perper, who performed an autopsy on Smith last week, told Seidlin that Smith's body is currently in refrigeration and is "not significantly damaged." However, he urged the judge to make a speedy ruling on the remains because "any further delay might reach a point when she would be damaged" and not presentable for any open-casket memorial service.
As the body battle raged in Florida, officers of Royal Bahamas Police searched Horizons, the disputed Bahamian home Smith shared with Howard K. Stern.
Police arrived at the oceanfront home in the morning and were quickly joined by a team emerging from a van marked "crime scene investigation." The group was led into the home by officers and refused to answer questions as to the nature of their search. However, they were spotted taking photographs of the estate.
It's unclear whether Stern and Dannielynn were home at the time.
The Royal Bahamas Police Force assistant commissioner said that officers "must be" at the premises as part of the ongoing investigation of a burglary that was reported at the estate over the weekend. Stern claimed that a computer, home videos and other personal effects had been stolen.
Shortly after the alleged theft, incriminating photos began circulating, including one apparently showing Smith's fridge stocked with methadone and other drugs and another of Smith embracing Bahamian Interior Minister Shane Gibson.
Finally, in Los Angeles, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, the husband of Zsa Zsa Gabor, has called an afternoon press conference. Von Anhalt, who entered the fray last week with the left-field declaration that he was one of Smith's lovers, says he has filed court papers "to establish paternity over Dannielynn."
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