Custody Battle for Anna Nicole's Baby Continues in the Bahamas

ByABC News via via logo

Feb. 11, 2007 — -- After former Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith died on Thursday, people are asking what will happen to her five-month-old daughter, Dannielynn.

For Dannielynn's various families, who are gathered in the Bahamas this weekend, the islands are anything but a paradise. Instead, it is now a battleground for her custody.

Smith's partner, Howard K. Stern, who claims to be the baby's father, reunited with Dannielynn somewhere on the islands, along with his mother and sister.

Virgie Arthur, Smith's mother. is also joining the fight the infant. She was inconsolable over the gravesite of her grandson Daniel, more resolved than ever to battle Stern for her granddaughter.

"I've have two dead children, and a grandbaby that he now has his hands on," she said. "I won't quit. I won't give up."

Arthur left the cemetery for the home of a local immigration official, who she thought might have Dannielynn, but the child was not there.

Her new strategy is to team up soon with Larry Birkhead, a former boyfriend of Smith's who says he's the father.

"I have the will power and the determination to know my daughter," Birkhead said. "And I know that, that I'll win, and my daughter one day will thank me for it."

Wherever Dannielyn is, an American judge is ordering that the baby must be DNA tested by Feb. 21.

"The child is legally in domicile in this country [the Bahamas], and the child also has a right as an American citizen to travel to the United States. That's not the issue," said Sidney Collie, a Bahamian lawyer. "The issue is all of these individuals who are claiming to have legal rights to the child."

Back at Smith's mansion, locksmiths arrived to chain the gates. An American developer and another former boyfriend of Smith's named Ben Thompson claims he owns the home that Smith shared with Stern.

Arthur plans at some point to leave the Caribbean island to fly to Miami, where Smith's body is being preserved under a court order. Arthur hopes to file the rights for her remains, as her next of kin.

Who's the Father?

The big question -- the identity of the baby's father -- will be decided in a courtroom.

Is the father Stern, Smith's lawyer who she claimed to have married in recent months? Is it Birkhead, Smith's former boyfriend? Or is it somebody else -- maybe Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband, who claims he had an affair with Smith, or even J. Howard Marshall, the multi-millionaire Smith married years ago and who died at age 90?

In Saturday's editions, the New York Daily News reports on a manuscript in which Smith's half-sister, Donna Hogan, reportedly alleges Smith froze Marshall's sperm and may have used it to get pregnant.

The question of who fathered Smith's child could have multi-million dollar implications. Hovering in the background is the fate of Marshall's fortune -- itself the subject of an ongoing legal battle that has reached as high as the U.S. Supreme Court.

Smith's estate stands to inherit as much as $475 million from Marshall. She also earned millions on her own.

Inside a Los Angeles courtroom on Friday, the legal fight to determine the father's identity began.

Birkhead claims he's the baby's father. His attorney, Debra Opri, asked a Los Angeles judge to immediately order a DNA sample from Smith's body.

"We do not want a bait and switch of a child," Opri said. "And even though people will say, 'That is preposterous, that is ridiculous,' it is a legitimate concern that the body, that the baby being tested is Anna Nicole's."

But Smith's long-time partner, Stern, is named as the father on the birth certificate.

Uncertain who has jurisdiction over the case, the judge refused to expedite the test.

For months, Birkhead has pressed for a paternity test. He said Smith spoke of marriage and starting a family.

"She talked about it," Birkhead said. "She constantly would bring out these ovulation kits and say, 'Tonight's the night. Today's the day.' You know."

The case is sounding even more bizarre. Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband, Prince Frederic Von Anhalt, claims he had an affair with Smith.

"Sometimes I am a bad boy, yeah," the prince said.

"If I didn't have Howard or my baby, I wouldn't be here," Smith once said.

Smith's body will be preserved until another hearing on Feb. 20. The Los Angeles judge then could move to take jurisdiction over the child until paternity is established -- something Birkhead's attorney is asking for.

Ron Rale, the attorney for Smith's estate in the custody case for Dannielynn, told "Good Morning America Weekend Edition," that he was concerned about Stern.

"Howard's in Florida and he's not doing well. His world came crashing down," Rale said. "I'm very concerned about him. … Hopefully he'll be okay."

Rale characterized additional claims of paternity beyond Birkhead and Stern "just tabloidism."

"I haven't seen any paperwork. I haven't been served with anything," he said.

As far as the father's identity, Rale said, "My personal opinion doesn't really matter," and that instead, it was a matter for the courts.

Stern and Birkhead "have the right to have courts to adjudicate this matter," he said. "Just based on the timing of the conception, I think it's Howard Stern."

"All that I've ever wanted to do is just follow the rules," Rale said. "I don't think we should just throw out what the rules are, just because a celebrity is involved.

"Obviously, we want what's best for Dannielynn," he added. "It's a tragic situation."

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