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Even in death, Smith spurs bitter debate

Her mother, attorney and ex-boyfriend argue in court over her burial -- and over who stood to profit from her death.

February 22, 2007|Tonya Alanez | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — Is it love of Anna Nicole Smith or love of money that's fueling the bitter fight to determine who has the legal right to bury her?

Broward County Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin will weigh the answer to those questions when he decides Friday who should gain custody of her decaying remains.

Smith's longtime companion and attorney, Howard K. Stern, says that Smith should be buried in the Bahamas. Virgie Arthur, her estranged mother, says Texas. And now Smith's ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead, during his first Broward court appearance Wednesday, suggested burying Smith in California near her idol, Marilyn Monroe.

"Instead of fighting, you should join hands and celebrate her memory and make her life worthwhile," Seidlin said.

The warring sides have to make their final pitch to the judge by 5 p.m. today.

In the fifth day of legal wrangling over the former Playboy centerfold's body, questioning focused on who may have profited from Smith's Feb. 8 death and that of her 20-year-old son, Daniel Wayne Smith, five months before.

He died of apparent drug-related causes in Smith's Bahamian hospital room, three days after she gave birth to a daughter, Dannielynn.

In her second day of testimony, Arthur denied profiting from Smith's or Daniel's deaths. But on cross-examination, she admitted that a celebrity news and photo agency, Splash News, paid for her trip to the Bahamas to videotape her at her grandson's grave. When pressed for details about possible payment, Arthur avoided answering, saying: "Give me a minute please, I'm trying to process that," and "I don't know what the right answer is here."

Instead, Arthur pointed the finger at Stern, saying: "The only one that's ever made any money off my daughter is that man sitting there right now."

She said Stern stood to earn $1 million by selling footage of Smith's pending funeral.

Stern testified that he gave up his law practice in 2002 and has since been supported by Smith.

"Anna paid my rent," he said. "Everything that I did for her legally, I didn't charge her."

Stern represents Smith in her battle to secure a portion of her late husband's multimillion-dollar fortune. If successful, Stern stands to earn 6% of a potential $100-million judgment. He said his parents were paying his bills now.

Smith married Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II in 1994, when he was 89 and she was 26. She had been fighting his family over money since Marshall's death in 1995.

Stern has maintained that he and Smith were devoted to one another and planned to marry, but Birkhead had a different take.

The 34-year-old photographer cast Stern as Smith's publicist, manager, friend and personal assistant.

Birkhead said that during his romantic relationship with Smith, Stern slept on the couch while he shared Smith's bedroom in her Studio City, Calif., home.

Birkhead, who along with Stern and another man claims to have fathered Dannielynn, was called to the stand on Arthur's behalf. Although he did not necessarily bolster Arthur's position, he did provide a glimpse into Smith's use of prescription drugs and her tumultuous life.

Asked where he thought Smith should be buried, Birkhead said California.

"Since she always had a desire to be in California, and that was her home, that's where I would have preferred her to be," he said.

In the two weeks since Smith, 39, died of unexplained causes after being found unconscious at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, her remains have been in cold storage at the county morgue.

The question of Smith's burial is now being expedited because her body is decaying.

During a two-hour recess Wednesday, Arthur, Stern, Birkhead and their attorneys journeyed to the morgue for one last viewing of the body.

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