The trial of famed philanthropist Brooke Astor's son has started with opening statements. Prosecutors say that Astor's only son Anthony Marshall, along with lawyers, conspired to swindle $60 million from an increasingly debilitated Astor through a codicil to her will while the defense claims Astor wanted to give her son the money all along. Defense attorney Frederick Hafetz even tried to deflate the perception of Astor's charitable largesse, saying she only donated in order to become powerful: "She used that money to position herself in the highest echelons of New York Society [and to become] one of the greatest benefactors... Make no mistake [she used the money] to position herself."
Hafetz also pointed out the many wills Astor made between 1953 and 1993 did not leave money to charity; the NY Times reports, "The millions she did bequeath, Mr. Hafetz said, came from her husband’s foundation, which required that the money go to charity and could not be spent on anything else. Mr. Hafetz emphasized his point for the jury with a graphic on a projector screen that, in bold letters, read, '$0 for Charity.'" Hafetz emphasized, "She changed wills like people changed socks. It was the one subject she could still understand" when she was well into her 100s.
He admitted that Astor initially didn't want to leave money to Marshall because of his third marriage to wife Charlene (because Charlene left her Episcopal priest husband for him)—but says she ultimately "realized that Tony’s third marriage, to Charlene, made Tony happy" and "realized and recognized what Charlene meant to her son — that she made him happy" and changed her will. Notably, Charlene Marshall wept as Hafetz said this in court.
However, prosecutors offered the jury images of various staffers witnessing Marshall and his lawyer harass Astor, including how a nurse saw them "[march] the doddering, 101-year-old doyenne -- one man clutching her by either arm -- into her drawing room to sign papers in which Marshall gave himself sole power of $60 million of his mother's money." Manhattan ADA Elizabeth Loewy said Marshall convinced his mother, who was worth $100 million, that she was broke and had to sell artwork to buy dresses.
While the trial will feature upcoming witnesses like Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters and Annette de la Renta, we're hoping there more details like this one from the Daily News' Joanna Molloy: Charlene Marshall took out a green cushion to sit on while watching the trial.