Brooke Astor Trial Verdict Latest in Long Family Drama

Brooke Astor was one of New York City's top philanthropists and socialites.

ByABC News
October 8, 2009, 10:48 AM

Oct. 8, 2009— -- Brooke Astor's son Anthony Marshall was convicted of tricking his late mother out of millions, and changing her will while the New York City socialite was incompetent and suffering from Alzheimer's in her final years.

After more than five months in criminal court, jurors convicted 85-year-old Marshall of 14 criminal counts, including fraud and grand larceny. Co-defendant Francis Morrissey, Astor's estate lawyer, was found guilty on all six counts of conspiracy, scheming to defraud and forgery.

The verdict comes as a surprise, after reports of upset jury members and a possible mistrial swirled, as the jury entered their 12th day of deliberation. The jury said that the verdict was reached unanimously.

Astor was the epitome of high society in New York and a respected philanthropist donating about $200 million to city landmarks such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library. She died in August 2007 at the age of 105.

The trial brought to light what prosecutors say was a tragic end for the New York City socialite, whose mental state had deteriorated to the point where she could no longer recognize her own family.

Marshall, who could spend a minimum of one year and up to 25 in prison, faced the judge and then the jury as the verdict was read. His wife Charlene Marshall, who was cast as the villain in her husband's trial, sat silently. His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 8.

Marshall was found not guilty on charges of larceny, relating to the controversial sale of Astor's prized Childe Hassam painting, and falsifying business records.

Prosecutors asked for bail to be raised from $100,000 to a $5 million bond for each defendant, but Justice Bartley Jr. ruled that the current bail was sufficient.

"I hope this brings some consolation and closure for the many people, including my grandmother's loyal staff, caregivers and friends, who helped when she was so vulnerable and so manipulated," Astor's grandson, Philip Marshall, said in a statement.

When Philip filed for guardianship of Astor in 2006, accusing his father of neglect, some of the allegations caught the eye of prosecutors, who charged Tony Marshall, 85, on criminal counts of larceny and scheming to defraud. Marshall claims the charges of elder abuse were unsubstantiated. In October 2006, he settled the charges, returning some money, jewelry and artwork, and relinquishing control over his mother's finances.

"20/20" spoke exclusively to Marshall, his wife Charlene and son Philip in the weeks before the verdict.

Philip, who testified against his father for the prosecution, told "20/20" while he never wanted a public trial, it has cast a spotlight on an epidemic of elder abuse.

"[Brooke] didn't choose this. ...Certainly she wouldn't like what's happening, but look what it's doing, in terms of addressing an incredible cause," he said. "And I think what the result of what we're in the fray of now, and how this will extend beyond Brooke, is really personally very important, about how this will inform the greater discussion of elder justice."

The Astor case has cast a spotlight on an epidemic of elder abuse. Up to 2 million Americans, age 65 and older, have been victims of abuse or neglect by their caregivers, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, and 60 percent of those cases are by a family member. If this could happen to one of the richest women in the world, couldn't it happen to anyone?

But the verdict is just the latest chapter in a long family drama.

"You rarely see a famous family like this falling apart in public," said Meryl Gordon, author of the biography, "Mrs. Astor Regrets." "I kept thinking whatever happened here, it started a long time ago."