Brook Astor's Mental State Challenged

Grandson admits he did not witness the talk about changing Astor's will.

May 18, 2009, 12:32 PM

NEW YORK, May 20, 2009— -- Brook Astor's grandson Philip Marshall admitted under cross examination today that he never discussed his grandmother's will with her and was not present when Astor signed the amendments to her will that were at the center of the criminal case against his father, Anthony Marshall.

Philip Marshall and his twin brother, Alec Marshall, 56, have both testified against their father, who is accused of manipulating Astor into changing her will to give him control of millions of dollars of her fortune.

In sometimes contentious cross examination, lawyers for Anthony Marshall tried to minimize Philip Marshall's earlier testimony that his grandmother appeared confused and disoriented in the years before her death, noting that Philip Marshall mentioned about five occasions when he visited his grandmother between 2001 and March 2004. He later said he visited more often.

Anthony Marshall faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Marshall, 84, showed little emotion as he sat in court, at times holding his head in his hand. During a break in testimony Tuesday, a day when both of his sons testified for the prosecution, Marshall sat on a bench in the court hallway with his wife, quietly crying.

Philip Marshall sparked the criminal case against his father in 2006 when he sought to have his father removed as Astor's legal guardian, accusing him of neglecting his grandmother. His grandmother, who had Alzheimer's disease, had deteriorated the point that she slept on a dog-urine stained couch in her Park Avenue apartment. Police and prosecutors began investigating after the allegations were made public.

Judge Kirke Bartley has prevented Philip Marshall from discussing many of the details of the guardianship case or the condition of Astor's apartment. Marshall did say under cross examination that he asked to be made permanent administrator of his grandmother's approximately $200 million estate. Astor died in 2007 at the age of 105.

Marshall said his application to be estate administrator is still pending. If made administrator, he could receive a fee of potentially millions of dollars, though he said he did not know the exact amount.

'I never did the math. That wasn't what it was about or what it will ever be about," he said.

Astor's mental state had deteriorated to the point where she did not recognize her family members in the last years of her life, a period in which Anthony Marshall was accused of stealing millions of dollars from his mother's estate.

In June 2004, Anthony Marshall and his wife, Charlene, told son Philip that Astor had planned to leave him and Alec $10,000 each, but Marshall "was able to change it so we got $1 million each," Philip Marshall said.

By that point, both grandsons testified, there had been several instances in which Astor did not seem to recognize her family and appeared confused and disoriented. Philip Marshall said he visited Astor in March 2004 at her Park Avenue apartment and helped her get into her car.

Philip Marshall said his elderly grandmother, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, did not recognize him, was "very disoriented" and "appeared terrified."

"I said, 'We're family, we love you,' And she relaxed and squeezed my hand," Marshall said, breaking into tears on the witness stand.

Among other allegations, Anthony Marshall is accused of telling his mother that she was running out of money in order to convince her to sell one of her beloved Childe Hassam paintings for a reported $10 million, taking $2 million as commission.

While Marshall would have inherited a substantial amount of money, he is also accused of arranging changes to her will to give him control over her fortune, most of which was previously marked for charity.

Francis Morrissey, 67, an estate planning lawyer, had also been charged with fraud and forgery. They've both pleaded not guilty.

As early as 2000, Astor's mental state began deteriorating, her grandsons said. Alec Marshall testified that Astor offered to give him her Westchester County, N.Y., estate in 2001 or 2002 , which he declined, saying that "I knew it was too late" to change Astor's will.

Astor's alleged living conditions, as described in Philip Marshall's guardianship case, were a dramatic fall for the wife of Vincent Astor, a real estate mogul and the son of John Jacob Astor IV, who died on the Titanic. Astor, once the grande dame of New York high society, had donated tens of millions of dollars to the city's libraries and museums. According to a 2006 court decision, Brooke Astor inherited more than $120 million when her husband died in 1959 and gave away more than $200 million to various charities.

But as she aged, prosecutors contend, she came more and more under the control of her son. Earlier Tuesday, Emily Rafferty, the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, testified that Anthony Marshall withdrew a $115,000 gift that his mother had promised to the museum to buy a $235,000 Buddha sculpture. Marshall said the cost of his mother's around-the-clock care prevented her from giving more than $250 to $1,000 in the future, Rafferty said. He also canceled her membership on the museum's chairman's council, an annual $50,000 cost.

Astor gave more than $23 million to the museum between 1963 and the early 2000s through her charity and her personal donations, according to Rafferty.

The trial has focused to a large extent on Astor's mental state in the last years of her life, when the changes to her will were made, and has detailed the sad decline of one of the city's most celebrated philanthropists.

On one occasion in December 2003, Rafferty said Astor did not recognize her when she saw her at the museum's office, though the two had known each other for years. During a 2002 Christmas party, Astor asked Rafferty who all the children were, though there were no children at the party, Rafferty testified.

Anthony Marshall, a former ambassador and Tony Award-winning Broadway producer, has pleaded not guilty to charges, including grand larceny and conspiracy. Francis Morrissey is accused of, among other things, forgery for allegedly faking Astor's signature on an amendment to her will. He has also pleaded not guilty.

The witnesses include the bold face names who made up Astor's circle of friends. Barbara Walters and Henry Kissinger are scheduled to testify this week. Kofi Annan, the former head of the United Nations; David Rockefeller; and Annette de la Renta, the wife of fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, may also testify.

Lawyers for Marshall and Morrissey are expected to argue that Astor was mentally capable of approving the changes, and that Astor loved her son and wanted to reward him financially.

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