Dec. 8, 2008 — -- After spending nearly 28 years in a coma, heiress Sunny von Bulow died Saturday in a New York nursing home. She was 76 years old.
While von Bulow lay unconscious, her husband, Claus von Bulow, fought attempted murder charges in one of the most talked about trials in American history.
Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor who defended von Bulow at his second trial, said today on "Good Morning America" that "Claus was very sorry" about Sunny's death.
"His daughter, Cosima, the daughter of both of theirs, was grieving and will be attending the funeral," Dershowitz said. "And Claus was sad for the family. Beyond that, he really had not very much to say."
Martha Sharp Crawford, called Sunny because of her cheerful spirit, was the daughter of a utilities tycoon. She married von Bulow in 1966 and became a household name when, in 1980, she collapsed on the bathroom floor of her Rhode Island mansion and never regained consciousness.
Claus von Bulow was accused of poisoning his wife with insulin in order to inherit her sizable fortune. The defense said Sunny's coma was brought on by her drinking and overindulging in sweets, which aggravated her hypoglycemia, a low blood-sugar condition.
Von Bulow was convicted of attempted murder in 1982, but Dershowitz took on the case and got the first verdict overturned. In 1985, von Bulow was found not guilty of poisoning his wife. The case, which garnered huge publicity as the first major criminal trial to be televised in the United States, became the basis of Dershowitz's book and the 1990 movie "Reversal of Fortune."
Today on "GMA," Dershowitz called Sunny von Bulow's death "a sad ending to a sad life."
Doctors said von Bulow never showed signs of brain activity and was fed through a tube in her stomach. Private nurses attended to her, and she always had fresh flowers and pictures of her children and grandchildren at her bedside table.
"This was a great medical tragedy that became a legal mystery. Fortunately, we were able to prove conclusively through the use of forensics and medical evidence that it was a self-induced coma and that there was no crime," Dershowitz told "GMA."
After the acquittal, Dershowitz said he advised von Bulow to leave the country.
"I said, 'Please disappear. Take your face out of the American public. The American public can be forgiving but they do not want to see you, unlike other defendants who put their face in the public.'"
Von Bulow, now 81 years old, took that advice and has lived in England for many years. In 1988, he divorced Sunny and gave up any claims to her fortune.
The death permanently split the family loyalties. Sunny's children from her first marriage, Annie-Laurie and Alexander von Auersperg, believed von Bulow was guilty of trying to kill their mother. Cosima Pavoncelli, Claus and Sunny's daughter, stood by her father.
Over the weekend, the three children issued a joint statement saying they were "blessed to have an extraordinarily loving and caring mother."
"Well, I think time heals. In the beginning, of course, they were very much divided," Dershowitz said. "Now Claus is an old man. He has grandchildren on both sides, and they want to unite as a family."