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Son of NY socialite Astor seeks new trial after juror recants

Astor heir Anthony Marshall arrives for sentencing at the Supreme Court in New York, December 21, 2009. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
Astor heir Anthony Marshall arrives for sentencing at the Supreme Court in New York, December 21, 2009. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

By Francesca Trianni

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The octogenarian son of the late New York philanthropist and socialite Brooke Astor made a last-minute attempt on Friday to overturn his conviction for siphoning millions of dollars from his mother's fortune, according to court documents.

Days before Anthony Marshall, 89, was expected to turn himself in on Monday to start serving a one- to three-year prison sentence for grand larceny and other charges, a juror recanted in a case that shocked and captivated New York society.

Juror number eight, Judi DeMarco, in an affidavit said she had been coerced to cast a guilty vote in Marshall's 2009 trial. Citing the sworn document, Marshall's defense team on Friday asked a judge in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan to stay the sentence while deciding whether to vacate the conviction.

DeMarco, a New York lawyer, said she did not believe Marshall and his co-defendant, attorney Francis Morrissey, 72, were guilty of the charges but succumbed to fatigue and other feelings when she agreed to go along with the rest of the jury to vote guilty.

"I changed my vote out of fear and exhaustion, not because I had been persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt of guilt," DeMarco said in the eight-page document dated June 8.

Marshall and Morrissey were accused of keeping Marshall's millionaire mother in squalid conditions in her final years and of taking advantage of her deteriorating mental state for financial gain. Mrs. Astor, whose fortune was estimated to be worth around $200 million, died in 2007 at the age of 105.

The five-month trial shed an unflattering light on one of New York's most prominent families. Mrs. Astor, the widow of Vincent Astor, heir to the fur and real estate fortune of John Jacob Astor, was a well-known philanthropist who served as a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Marshall's attorney did not return a call for comment.

Previous defense attempts to have the conviction overturned based on DeMarco's assertions failed because the juror had, until now, refused to sign a sworn statement stating that she felt coerced into casting a guilty vote, according to the affidavit. She feared she would become the focus of international media covering the case.

When asked what prompted DeMarco to change her mind, Morrissey's attorney, William Zabel, said that DeMarco had found the inner strength necessary to tell the truth.

"She showed the most important human quality - courage," Zabel said.

State Supreme Court Justice A. Kirke Bartley set a hearing for Monday on Marshall and Morrissey's motion to throw out their convictions and grant a new trial.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office, which has not yet filed a response to the motion, declined to comment on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou, Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Adler)

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