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No signs of a violent death

Anna Nicole Smith's autopsy is inconclusive. The husband of Zsa Zsa Gabor says he fathered Smith's baby girl.

February 10, 2007|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

DANIA BEACH, FLA. — Anna Nicole Smith wasn't suffocated, stabbed, shot or bludgeoned, but the medical examiner who conducted a six-hour autopsy on the pop-culture star said Friday that it could be five weeks before he knew what killed her.

The 39-year-old celebrity sexpot, who was found lifeless in a luxury hotel suite Thursday, probably died of natural causes, drug or chemical influences, or a combination of those factors, said Joshua Perper, chief of the Broward County medical examiner's office.

The paternity of Smith's 5-month-old daughter was also under examination Friday, as former boyfriend Larry Birkhead pressed demands in a Los Angeles courtroom for DNA testing, and the husband of Zsa Zsa Gabor claimed he fathered the baby.

Smith's companion at the time of her death, attorney Howard K. Stern, is listed on the child's Bahamian birth certificate as the father.

Perper said toxicology and tissue testing would be needed to establish the cause of Smith's death, but he cast doubt on the possibility that she had deliberately overdosed on prescription medications found in her hotel room.

"We did not see any intact pills in the stomach -- just a little bit of blood," he said, attributing that to terminal shock, a natural bodily function that occurs with death.

No illegal drugs were found in Smith's suite at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in nearby Hollywood, said Seminole Police Chief Charles Tiger.

"At this point, there has been no evidence revealed to suggest a crime occurred," said Tiger, whose police force is leading the investigation because Smith's death occurred at the casino hotel in a Seminole tribal enclave.

Smith's estranged mother, Virgie Arthur, told ABC's "Good Morning America" she suspected that the former stripper, Playboy model and reality-TV star had died of a drug overdose.

"I think she had too many drugs, just like Danny," Arthur said, referring to Smith's 20-year-old son, who died in September of a lethal combination of methadone and antidepressants. "I tried to warn her about drugs and the people that she hung around with. She didn't listen."

Perper fielded a barrage of media questions after reading a statement on the initial autopsy findings, calmly pointing to indications that appeared to discredit rumors in the tabloid press that Smith committed suicide or suffocated on her own vomit.

In Los Angeles, Superior Court Judge Robert A. Schnider rejected Birkhead's request for an emergency DNA sample from Smith's remains, but requested that her body be preserved until a Feb. 20 hearing to determine, among other issues, legal jurisdiction over Smith's body.

A DNA sample is routinely taken from an autopsy subject, Perper said. He said he had extracted enough to satisfy any potential request in the paternity matter. Perper said his office would cooperate with all courts involved in Smith's tangled legal battles, and would rely on the county's legal counsel if jurisdictional conflicts arose.

"We are aware of the significant public interest in this death," Perper said. He said the office would "expedite its testing without jeopardizing the thoroughness of investigation."

The paternity of Dannielynn Hope Marshall Stern has become a compelling chapter in the enduring Smith soap opera, as the child could inherit millions if her mother's estate prevails in its pursuit of the fortune of Smith's late husband, J. Howard Marshall II.

The Texas oil tycoon, who was 89 when he married the 26-year-old Smith in 1994, left assets worth $1.6 billion. Smith and Marshall's son E. Pierce Marshall -- also now deceased -- had been fighting over the inheritance for a dozen years.

Dannielynn was left with the family of a senior Bahamian official in Nassau when Smith and Stern went to South Florida on Monday to purchase a yacht. Stern was reportedly still at the Hard Rock, but hasn't been seen in public since Smith's body was discovered.

"I'm very concerned for him," Ronald A. Rale, Smith's attorney in the paternity case, said of Stern, whom he described as being incoherent with grief. "I'm sure he is thinking of getting back to Dannielynn."

DNA testing will probably determine the child's custody, and may also include the DNA of Gabor's husband of 20 years, 59-year-old Prince Frederick von Anhalt, as well as that of Stern and Birkhead.

The prince told reporters he had a 10-year affair with Smith. "If you go back from September, she wasn't with one of those guys, she was with me," he said.

A representative for the 90-year-old Gabor and her husband said he found it "completely implausible" that the prince was Dannielynn's father.

"He has been taking care of Ms. Gabor for the last two years, and his time is very limited," said attorney Ronald Jason Palmieri. Gabor must use a wheelchair.

Birkhead was not in court Friday because he had been up all night grieving over the lost "love of his life," his attorney, Debra Opri, told reporters after the hearing.

On Wednesday, Schnider had ordered Smith and her daughter to submit to the DNA tests by Feb. 21.

Rale said Smith had been willing to undergo testing.

Times staff writer Tami Abdollah contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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