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Jury Selection Begins in Fraud Trial of Brooke Astor’s Son

John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times

Anthony Marshall, 84, and his wife, Charlene, arriving at court.

Published: March 30, 2009

Shuffling one foot at a time with the help of an oak cane, the son of Brooke Astor began an unsteady journey on Monday.

With his wife clutching one arm and one of his lawyers the other, the son, Anthony Marshall, 84, made his way up the steep staircase of a Manhattan courthouse. He went on trial on Monday, 16 months after he was charged with defrauding his mother, the queen of New York society and philanthropy, out of millions of dollars by taking advantage of her declining mental health.

Coincidentally, the case opened on what would have been her 107th birthday. Mrs. Astor died two years ago.

Mr. Marshall appeared in court for the first time since early last fall. He had been excused from several hearings after having open heart surgery in September.

The proceedings on Monday, before Justice A. Kirke Bartley Jr. of State Supreme Court, mostly concerned the selection of potential jurors who could serve for the duration of the case. Justice Bartley said the trial could last up to three months.

Mr. Marshall said he felt fine. He was cordial, and his wife, Charlene, also smiled at times.

“I’m a little wobbly, that’s why I’ve got the cane,” Mr. Marshall said, responding to reporters’ questions outside court. “Sometimes I can get around without it, but when I do something like this, I really need a cane.”

Jury selection is expected to last two weeks. On Monday, Justice Bartley called 100 potential jurors into the courtroom, admonished them to “resist that temptation” to read or watch any news accounts of the case and then asked how many would be able to spend three months hearing it.

Fourteen hands went up. Those people were sent to fill out a lengthy questionnaire — about what charities they donated to, for example, and what they had read about Mrs. Astor — while Justice Bartley called the other 86 into his chambers one by one to find out why they could not serve.

This first round took up the bulk of the day. The judge will continue to bring in groups of 100 until there are 100 people who say they can serve. From that pool, the jury will be chosen.

Prosecutors said Mr. Marshall and Francis X. Morrissey Jr., a lawyer who helped with Mrs. Astor’s estate planning, knew that she had Alzheimer’s disease and schemed to have her change her will to funnel millions of dollars Mr. Marshall’s way.

Lawyers for Mr. Marshall and Mr. Morrissey said that Mrs. Astor was competent when she made decisions about her finances between 2002 and 2007, the period covered in the men’s indictments.

Both defendants have been charged with conspiracy and scheming to defraud. Mr. Marshall has also been charged with grand larceny, punishable by up to 25 years in prison if he is convicted. Mr. Morrissey has also been charged with forgery, for which he could receive up to seven years in prison.