NEW YORK (AP) – A diamond-and-gold necklace and earrings once owned by Brooke Astor took center stage Thursday at a theft trial that saw the late socialite’s daughter-in-law weep upon arriving at the courthouse.

Charlene Marshall has drawn scorn throughout the trial, portrayed as a greedy social climber who was loathed by Astor after she married the philanthropist’s son. The son, Anthony Marshall, is on trial along with his lawyer on charges that they exploited Astor’s mental decline so they could loot her $198 million estate.

A distraught Charlene Marshall wept as she arrived at the courthouse on the couple’s 17th anniversary. Testimony in the trial about Astor’s lavish gifts to her friends and her animosity toward her daughter-in-law have been splashed across the local newspapers in recent days.

The star-studded witness list has included Nancy Kissinger, Philippe de Montebello, Louis Auchincloss and Annette de la Renta, who testified Thursday about accepting two necklaces and a pair of earrings from Astor at a 2001 Christmas party.

One of the necklaces is made of numerous elliptical gold pieces encrusted with 528 diamonds weighing a total of 33 carats. The jewels were brought to court in a plastic bag and shown to the jury.

Prosecutors say Astor was mentally incompetent as far back as 2001, a good two years before Marshall and his lawyer allegedly changed her will to enrich themselves. But defense lawyers, in their questioning of de la Renta, sought to show that Astor was of sound mind when she gave the extravagant gifts.

“You saw this gift as an expression of Mrs. Astor’s love and affection?” asked Kenneth Warner, lawyer for Anthony Marshall.

“I saw it as an expression of great love and generosity,” responded de la Renta, 69, wife of fashion designer Oscar de la Renta. “She put it around my neck in front of a lot of people and I was very happy about that.”

“When Mrs. Astor gave you that gift, you felt completely comfortable accepting it?,” Warner asked. Astor was 99, three months from her 100th birthday.

“To accept a gift from my friend? Yes,” the witness answered.

De la Renta, who had been Astor’s closest friend, was testifying in the seventh day of the trial of Marshall and co-defendant Francis Morrissey, a 66-year-old trust and estates lawyer. Astor died in 2007 at age 105.

Her last will, created Jan. 30, 2002, left millions of dollars to her favorite charities. But later changes in the will, which prosecutors attribute to the defendants, gave Marshall most of her estate.

Prosecution witnesses have been called to try to show that by the time Astor’s will was amended three times between December 2003 and March 2004, she did not have the mental ability to understand and execute a complex legal document.

Warner argues that Astor, like many centenarians, had good and bad days mentally. He said his questioning of de la Renta was aimed at showing Astor was often lucid and competent despite her mental decline.

The defense lawyer asked de la Renta about another jewelry gift Astor gave her during a trip to Florida.

The witness said that on that trip “in the early 2000s,” Astor took off a pair of earrings and gave them to her.

“You didn’t have any doubt that she wanted you to have them, correct?” Warner asked. “You didn’t think she was confused?”

Again, de la Renta said she was comfortable accepting the earrings and was touched that Astor had given them to her. She added that she had given Astor numerous outfits worth thousands of dollars from her husband.

Warner also had de la Renta read a four-page letter to her from Astor. The socialite apologizes in the letter for her annoyance with de la Renta during a Central Park stroll in which the two got in a fight over whether they should let Astor’s dogs run through the park without a leash.

Astor apparently felt bad about scolding de la Renta, so she penned a letter in which she apologized and referred to her as her “dearest child.”

Warner said that letter was “a massive display of competence, awareness and intelligence.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.