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March 02, 2001 05:55am
Jury Begins Deliberations in Playmate Probate Case
Source: Reuters
by: Jeff Franks

(HOUSTON, TX) -- A jury began deliberations on Friday in a lawsuit to determine who gets the billion-dollar estate of a Texas oil tycoon and whether he promised half of it to his wife, former Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith.

The three-man, nine-woman panel, which has heard five months of testimony, must decide whether to divide up the estate of J. Howard Marshall II, who died in 1995 and left all his money to younger son Pierce Marshall.

After getting the case late in the day, the jury broke for the weekend and was to resume discussions on Monday.

Older son J. Howard Marshall III has sued Pierce, saying he manipulated their mentally enfeebled father to disinherit him.

Smith also sued, saying the old man promised her half his fortune if she would marry him, but dropped out of the case after a California judge awarded her a $475 million slice of the estate in a separate proceeding.

Smith and Marshall married in 1994 when she was 26 and he was 89 after they met at the Houston club where she was a stripper. He died 14 months later of heart failure.

Although Smith is no longer suing, the Texas jury will rule on whether Marshall offered half his money for her hand in marriage.

Pierce Marshall, who has appealed the $475 million judgement in California, has accused Smith of being a golddigger who took advantage of a sick old man. He said his father gave her nearly $7 million in gifts and never meant for her to get more.

He said his older brother got no inheritance because his father never forgave him for a 1980s business dispute.

In closing arguments on Friday, Rusty Hardin, attorney for Pierce Marshall, said Howard Marshall III was a ``serial suer'' who cared only about money.

``Show me the money -- that's Howard's mantra,'' he said. ''Hell hath no fury like a greedy relative who wants money.''

He said Smith, who testified for several days, had repeatedly lied in her attempt to get a piece of the estate. ''You cannot believe her as to the time of day,'' Hardin said.

Howard Marshall's lawyers said Pierce was the greedy one.

``Pierce Marshall wants every penny, including his dad's, his mom's and my client's,'' said attorney Jim Hartnett.

Tom Cunninham, Smith's lawyer, said she was not a golddigger, but a woman who made an old man happy at the end of his days. ``She was the light of his life ... his life had turned to darkness and he went and found my client,'' he said.

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