The verdict is in: Mother doesn't know best—and neither does Howard K. Stern.
In a surprise move, Broward County Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin gave custody of Anna Nicole Smith's remains to her five-month-old daughter, Dannielynn Hope Marshall Stern, ending a contentious six-day hearing in which allegations of profiteering, sexual abuse, blood feuds, drug addiction and paternity oftentimes overshadowed the next-of-kin status that the hearing was set to determine.
Dannielynn's court-appointed guardian, Miami lawyer Richard Milstein, announced that, after conferring with the principals—Smith's mother, Virgie Arthur, ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead and longtime companion Stern—the former Playmate would be laid to rest alongside her son, Daniel.
That echoed a weepy Seidlin's plea from the bench. "I want her buried with her son in the Bahamas," he proclaimed. "I want them to be together."
Stern, Arthur and Birkhead emerged from the courthouse together and addressed the press.
"I think what's important is that we're all working together," said Birkhead.
The threesome refused to discuss details of their plans for a funeral arrangement, expected within the next two or three days, with Birkhead lawyer Debra Opri saying, "Anna deserves...the privacy that she sought."
Smith's Bahamian lawyer, Wayne Munroe, has said that prior to her death, Smith bought four funeral plots—for Daniel, Dannielynn, Stern and herself—at Lakeview Memorial Gardens & Mausoleums in Nassau. Daniel, 20, died last September, just three days after Dannielynn's birth.
Smith died Feb. 8 at age 39; the cause of death is not yet known.
Stern did not speak during the brief press conference, opting instead to let his attorney, Krista Barth, comment on his behalf.
"Everybody's working together to arrange the details, and hopefully it'll turn into what it should be—a very private matter," she said.
And, by the looks of things, a slightly postponed one.
Despite appearing with Stern and Birkhead and supposedly in accord with them over Smith's Bahamian burial, Arthur confirmed to E! News that she appealed Seidlin's decision. The legal action will likely delay the transportation, and any subsequent interment, of Smith's remains.
Joshua Perper, the chief medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on Smith, announced that an appeal had been filed. Because of the motion, Perper said, he didn't expect the body to be discharged from the morgue until Friday at the earliest.
He also announced that Seidlin had requested him to accompany Milstein in transferring Smith's body to the Bahamas, whenever that may be.
Milstein was appointed last week as Dannielynn's guardian for the hearing over the objections of Stern's and Arthur's lawyers.
According to the Website for his firm, Akerman Senterfitt, Milstein "in his eclectic practice of over 30 years has handled very complex and high profile guardianship and probate matters. Family law is a specialty where he has not only represented clients of significant means, but has been called upon to represent the children in disputed relationships."
Relationships don't get much more disputed than this. Dannielynn, who remains in the Bahamas with Stern's family, is the subject of a paternity battle between Stern and Birkhead.
Opri announced after the press conference that she would return to the courthouse Friday morning to request DNA samples from Stern in connection with their ongoing paternity suit.
Before reading the ruling, Seidlin said he hoped the courtroom would remain "dignified" upon hearing his verdict.
"I want you to understand that I reviewed absolutely everything," Seidlin said before issuing the ruling. "I have struggled with this. I have shed tears.
"Justice is not perfect, it's what is reasonable."
The ruling came unexpectedly after a full day of testimony from several players in the case, including Birkhead, and was an intentional surprise by Seidlin.
On Wednesday, the judge announced that his decision on the disposition of Smith's remains would not come until Friday morning. He opted to fast-track the hearing, cutting it down from three weeks to one week, after Perper, who conducted the autopsy of Smith, said that her body was decomposing at a faster than expected rate. (On Thursday, Perper revised his remarks, saying Smith's body was still in good shape for viewing.)
"I feel for all parties here," Seidlin said before issuing his decision. "I suffer with this case day and night."
Seidlin said that while he felt all parties were "misunderstood," he acknowledged that there were many "shades of gray."
"I don't think anyone's bad here," Seidlin said. "This was a heavy burden."
Thursday's session followed a marathon day of testimony Wednesday in which Stern, Birkhead and Arthur all paraded before the judge—and cameras.
Contributing to the circus: the climactic fainting of a lawyer and the latest down-home pronouncements by the ringmaster, Seidlin.
"I want to keep this dignified," Seidlin said. "You lawyers are trained to look for the smoking gun. Who's the villain? Who's the hero? There's black, there's white and there's a lot of gray in this case."
Seidlin kicked off the hearing by letting all three parties—or, as he called them, "Mama," "Larry" and "Stern"—and their respective legal teams—"Texas," "California," and "Florida"—know his mindset entering into the final day of testimony.
Over an objection from Stern's attorney, Seidlin referred to Stern as "maybe an enabler," asking, "Is he a bad guy?...These folks may not be bad. They may not be living the perfect life, but that's for other people to decide.
"I have not concluded anything yet. My mind is completely open."
Seidlin also attempted to broker a peace treaty between the different legal teams, by waxing metaphorical on Smith's life.
"Anna Nicole loved Marilyn Monroe," he said. "Camelot. Knights of the Round Table. One for all, all for one. Loyalty."
His confused, if well-intended, statement was quickly shot down by Birkhead's attorney, Debra Opri.
"You want the three of us to hold hands?" she asked. "It ain't never gonna happen, your honor."
Birkhead resumed his testimony by discussing his relationship with Smith, saying that she suffered a miscarriage a year before getting pregnant with Dannielynn. He also testified that Smith pushed him out of her life after an argument that, he claimed, was inflamed by Stern to the point of disrepair.
Birkhead went on to claim that in May 2006 he was bombarded with nearly 200 phone calls by Stern, badgering Birkhead to stop publicly asserting that he was the father of Smith's unborn child. Birkhead finally agreed with Stern just to "get him off my back."
Despite vehement objections from Opri, Stern's attorney, Krista Barth, then read off a series of angry emails sent by Birkhead to Smith in the wake of Dannielynn's birth, in which Birkhead accused Smith of cheating on him, even going so far as to reveal Birkhead's personal email address in open court.
"This is so off the base of the burial intent," Opri said. "We are on such a limited amount of time."
Barth later presented a contract signed by Birkhead in January 2006 in which he agreed not to speak to the press about the pregnancy, a document he claimed he signed under duress, after Smith reportedly threatened not to let him see either her or the child if he refused to sign.
Opri again objected, saying the document was likely only being entered into evidence to lay the foundation for a breach-of-contract suit Stern might file in the future, saying it was "beyond the scope" of the current hearing.
In getting back to the case at hand—i.e., the dispostion of Smith's remains—Seidlin asked Birkhead point-blank where he believes Smith should be buried.
Birkhead said that Smith should not be separated from her son, Daniel, but that the boy "considered California home, and so did Anna. For them to be laid to rest in a place that was unnecessary for them to be in," Birkhead said, wasn't appropriate.
With Birkhead still on the stand, and the clock running out, an argument broke out as to whether Seidlin would enforce an order from the California court with regard to the DNA testing of Dannielynn. Amid objections from Stern's camp, Opri said that Seidlin had the right to order the tests.
Milstein stepped in, saying that enforcing the order was outside of Seidlin's jurisdiction and that Opri was not only "muddying the waters" but "wasting time."
"We're not going to head that route," Seidlin said, nevertheless telling Opri, "I like your style."
"I want peace on earth here...Don't test me anymore. Don't test me. I can fight a 10-round fight."
Opri then cross-examined Birkhead, giving him a chance to repeat his belief that he is the father of Dannielynn and that he is willing to take any tests to prove it.
A Houston police officer, who also served briefly as Smith's bodyguard in 2002, took the stand and testified that Smith was a "normal, everyday loving person" who was under an enormous amount of stress. He also said her relationship with her late son was strong and that he meant "the world to her."
He also testified that Smith thought of Texas, where her mother wants Smith interred, as "nothing but bad." He further claimed that she told him if anything should happen to her, she wanted to be with Daniel.
The hearing took an earlier than expected recess when one of Arthur's attorneys, John O'Quinn, fainted during the proceedings, quickly apologizing for the disturbance and explaining he was a diabetic.
"Stay with me, Texas," Seidlin said. "I wanna be with you a long time from now."
The hearing then recessed, during which time Opri filed documents in the Bahamas requesting immediate custody of Dannielynn for Birkhead and paternity testing for the child.
When the hearing resumed, Barth requested that Stern be allowed to leave the proceedings to immediately fly back to the Bahamas and deal with the legal issues, but Seidlin denied the request, saying the proceedings were wrapping up and that the point would soon be "moot."
Two friends of Smith's then took the stand, including Ford Shelley, whose South Carolina home Smith stayed in before moving to the Bahamas. Shelley testified that Smith told him she was pregnant with Birkhead's baby but that she did not want him to have any rights. Shelley also said he was the one who suggested Smith move to the Bahamas due to their favorable laws for unwed mothers.
The testimony took place while Arthur's attorneys attempted to play a 51-second video taken of Smith by Stern when she was nine months pregnant. The video, obtained by Shelley when he returned to the Bahamian home owned by Shelley's father-in-law, G. Ben Thompson, and in which Smith was residing, made the Internet rounds last week and features Smith in a seemingly drugged-out state, with her face covered in clown paint. Stern is heard on the video saying that the footage would be "worth a lot of money."
Shelley also testified to the fact that Smith wanted to bury Daniel in California, but didn't for fear of being hit with paternity action from Birkhead upon entering the state.
Meanwhile, new footage of Smith surfaced on TMZ Thursday, in which she was seen hugging and being kissed by a shirtless Sandeep Kapoor, the doctor under investigation for prescribing medications to a pregnant Smith under a false name. Both Stern and Birkhead are also seen on the tape.