At least in the eyes of David Rockefeller and Annette de la Renta, there were no winners in the outcome of the trial of their friend Brooke Astor’s only son, Anthony Marshall.
“The only reason we got involved in Mrs. Astor’s treatment was to ensure that she lived the last months of her life in comfort and peace,” said Rockefeller and de la Renta in a joint statement to WWD on Thursday. “Thankfully that was accomplished, and the rest of the story was very sad.”
This story first appeared in the October 9, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Some of Astor’s other friends felt vindicated by the verdict.
“The end result was correct,” said film producer John Hart. “Tony acted in selfish interest — consistently and precipitously. The jury’s decision was pretty clear.”
After a trial lasting almost five months, which bared some of the most intimate details of Astor’s life, Marshall was found guilty Thursday of scheming to defraud his Alzheimer’s-stricken mother of her estimated $180 million estate at the end of her life. Marshall’s co-defendant, the estate lawyer Francis X. Morrissey Jr., was also found guilty of forgery on an addition to Astor’s will.
“This would have hurt Brooke,” Hart continued. “She loved her son and he was certainly well-compensated by her. [But] enough is enough. You don’t change the intentions of your mother who spent her whole life in the service of philanthropy. If she wanted to give $10 million to the Rockefeller Institute, that was her wish. He shouldn’t have gone in there to take control of that. It’s wrong.”
As for Morrissey, “He should be put in stocks in Times Square and we should be able to throw things at him,” said Hart. “These are characters right out of Dickens.”
Astor’s many friends had rallied on behalf of the prosecution during the trial. Besides Hart, Marshall’s own sons testified against their father and a cavalcade of distinguished figures and bold-faced names made cameos. They included Henry Kissinger, his wife, Nancy, Barbara Walters, Graydon Carter, Lord William Astor, Vartan Gregorian, Philippe de Montebello and de la Renta, who was appointed Astor’s guardian after that position was stripped from Marshall in 2006.
“You, darling Annette, are my dearest child and I am so proud of you,” Astor wrote in a note to de la Renta, which was included as evidence.
Prosecutors charged that, while acting as his mother’s financial adviser, Marshall took advantage of Astor’s diminished mental capacity to help himself to money, property and artwork and to change her will in his favor. The defense countered that despite being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Astor had periods of lucidity and altered her will because she simply loved her son.
Marshall was found guilty of 14 of the 16 counts against him, including a Class B grand larceny charge, which carries a jail term of one to 25 years. The question of sentencing, which is scheduled for Dec. 8, is serious for the 85-year-old, who underwent open heart surgery in 2008 and suffered a minor stroke and a concussion during the trial. His lawyers said he is planning to appeal.
Meanwhile, the fate of Astor’s $180 million estate remains unclear. The civil trial at Westchester County Surrogate’s Court concerning her will was put on hold, but can now resume.