NEW YORK — The 85-year-old son of philanthropist Brooke Astor was sentenced Monday to as many as three years in prison for exploiting her mental frailty to plunder her millions, but the legal saga surrounding the society doyenne's fortune will persist with planned appeals.
Anthony Marshall showed little emotion as state Supreme Court Justice A. Kirke Bartley sentenced him to one to three years in prison – the minimum term his conviction required – for looting his mother's fortune. She gave away nearly $200 million to institutions and charities before she died at age 105 in 2007.
Marshall will remain free for at least the next month as his defense lawyers try to persuade an appeals court to let him stay free on bail indefinitely while his planned appeal plays out.
The judge noted Marshall's World War II service and the possibility that the late Astor herself would have been aghast to see her son imprisoned, but he added that the law left him no choice but to impose a prison term.
"It is a paradox to me that such abundance has led to such incredible sadness," said Bartley, who rejected Marshall's bid to throw out the part of his conviction that required prison. He gave Marshall until Jan. 19 to provide medical information to prison officials and otherwise prepare for life behind bars.
Marshall declined to speak at his sentencing, where prosecutors described him as an unrepentant thief who deserved punishment, while his lawyers strove to portray him as a dutiful son who believed his mother wanted him to have the money and items he was convicted of stealing.
Before leaving court, the stooped, unsteady Marshall sat for a minute on a bench in the courtroom audience, the arm of his tearful wife, Charlene, around his shoulders.
Co-defendant Francis X. Morrissey Jr., 67, an estates lawyer convicted of helping Marshall steal his mother's money, was also sentenced Monday to one to three years in prison. Like Marshall, Morrissey will remain free until Jan. 19 and is planning to appeal.
Marshall faced as many as 25 years in prison after being convicted of 14 counts, including grand larceny and scheming to defraud, for looting his mother's nearly $200 million fortune. She was suffering from Alzheimer's disease when she died.
In the final year of her life, a nasty family feud over her care was splashed all over the city's tabloids – including allegations that she was forced to sleep in a torn nightgown on a couch that smelled of urine while subsisting on a diet of pureed peas and oatmeal. Those allegations were never substantiated, but they led to the criminal case over her finances.
The claims were initially broached by one of Marshall's sons, Philip; he didn't immediately return a telephone call Monday evening.
Defense lawyers have said Marshall's myriad illnesses would make any prison term a virtual death sentence for the former U.S. ambassador and Broadway producer, who was wounded while leading a Marine platoon in the battle of Iwo Jima.
Marshall's Oct. 8 conviction followed a five-month trial in which Manhattan prosecutors painted him as an impatient heir who schemed to get his hands on his disoriented mother's money, though she had already provided for him generously.
Prosecutors – who brought in such prominent Astor friends as Barbara Walters and Henry Kissinger to help make their case – say Marshall manipulated Astor into changing her will and even helped himself to artwork from her walls, largely to benefit a wife she disliked. The will changes alone steered him tens of millions of dollars previously destined charities, prosecutors say.
"The defendant's economic and social standing shouldn't put him above the herd," Assistant District Attorney Joel Seidemann said. "He shouldn't be treated as anything other than a common thief."
Defense lawyers say Marshall had the legal power to give himself gifts with his mother's money, and she was lucid when she changed her will to benefit her only child. He consulted with attorneys throughout, they noted.
"I think the fairest way to think about it is that there is a man who, maybe, felt entitled – and in hindsight felt too entitled – but he's not somebody who simply stuck his hand in the cookie jar when no one was looking," defense lawyer John R. Cuti said as he argued for leniency for Marshall.
Marshall didn't testify or call any witnesses at his trial. After his conviction, he aired details of his life – from childhood sorrows to his current health problems – and lined up some celebrity supporters of his own in a bid to stay free. Friends Al Roker and Whoopi Goldberg were among more than 70 people who wrote to the court praising him.
Meanwhile, a fight over Astor's estate continues in civil court, pitting Marshall against several charities. It was on hold during the criminal case.
Citing the will fight, Bartley turned down prosecutors' request to force Marshall to pay more than $12 million and Morrissey more than $237,000 as restitution.
Astor was seen as the queen of New York society and a power in the city's philanthropic scene, supporting such grand institutions as Carnegie Hall and such humble needs as a new boiler for a youth center. Her efforts won her a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1998.