Estate fight goes to trial

Tuesday, October 3rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON – The first day lived up to pretrial billing Monday as lawyers began giving opening arguments to jurors who will decide who gets what in the fight over the estimated $1.6 billion estate left by oilman J. Howard Marshall II.

Former Playboy centerfold Anna Nicole Smith dabbed at her eyes as her lawyer described how she loved Mr. Marshall despite his advanced age, how he married her in 1994 and promised to take care of her before he died at age 90 in 1995.

In their version of events, Mr. Marshall's younger son, E. Pierce Marshall of Dallas, repeatedly lied and committed fraud to keep Ms. Smith and his brother, J. Howard Marshall III of Los Angeles, from inheriting anything.

But a different version will unfold as lawyers representing Pierce Marshall counterattack with opening arguments defending their client and attacking Ms. Smith and J. Howard Marshall III.

Lawyers on Monday finished picking 16 jurors, including four alternates. Thirteen of them are women. Then, the lawyers delivered the first half of eight hours of opening arguments in a case expected to last 10 weeks or more.

"I'm going to talk to you about love, affection, approval, adoration, tenderness," said Ms. Smith's attorney, Tom Cunningham, pointedly referring to his client as Mrs. J. Howard Marshall II or Vickie Marshall. She was born Vickie Lynn Hogan.

"Mr. Marshall was adrift because his family was at war and he had nobody to love," Mr. Cunningham said. "When he met Vickie, it saved his life."

But Pierce Marshall did everything he could to keep his father from his new wife and then to keep that wife from getting any of her husband's money, Mr. Cunningham said.

"There's fraud in this case," Mr. Cunningham said, outlining alleged alteration of documents and misrepresentations to judges in order to keep control of the fortune.

Ms. Smith, wearing a conservative, dark dress that did not cover the tattoo of a windswept female figure on her calf, swallowed hard, sniffled and finally wept openly at Mr. Cunningham's remarks.

Pierce Marshall sat stone-faced with his wife, occasionally shaking his head as the opposing lawyers gave their arguments.

"They're going to say to you that this is a case about paper," Mr. Cunningham said, referring to six wills and seven other documents that do not name Ms. Smith as an heir. "This is a case about people who love each other."

The case is three-sided, with Ms. Smith and J. Howard Marshall III seeking to prove separate claims to the estate.

The lawyer speaking for J. Howard Marshall III said Pierce Marshall had grown to hate his brother because he was more successful and had come to resent his father because he thought he preferred his brother.

Attorney Terry Giles outlined allegations that Pierce Marshall took advantage of a 1980 battle over control of Koch Industries Inc. to divide his father and brother. Shares in Koch represent the bulk of the Marshall family fortune.

Mr. Giles alleges that Pierce Marshall lied to his father repeatedly about his brother's intentions in joining dissidents in the fight for control of Koch. Then, Mr. Giles charged, Pierce Marshall engaged in a series of dishonest transactions to gain control of the 14.7 percent of Koch Industries that his father owned.

While J. Howard Marshall III went off and started a business on his own, Pierce Marshall attached himself to his father and maneuvered to get all the money, Mr. Giles said.

For Pierce Marshall, "the money became the driving goal, it became and is his sole identity, and he would do anything to get it and keep it, every cent," Mr. Giles argued.