NEW YORK (AP) — An 89-year-old heir to one of America’s earliest megafortunes has been granted medical parole two months after being sent to prison for siphoning millions from his mentally failing mother, society grande dame Brooke Astor.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced Anthony Marshall had been granted parole and was released Thursday afternoon, a day after a parole board interviewed him.
The board found he was suffering from debilitating and permanent, though not terminal, illness, and it creates “a reasonable probability that you do not present any danger to society,” commissioners wrote. Before his release, he’d been moved from a prison in New York’s Hudson Valley to a hospital, officials said, though they wouldn’t specify where.
“We’re gratified by the parole board’s unanimous and compassionate decision,” one of Marshall’s lawyers, Kenneth Warner, said in a statement.
Marshall began serving his one- to three-year sentence in June, after fighting his conviction for years. State law allows medical parole for inmates with serious and permanent illnesses. Marshall’s doctors have said he suffers from Parkinson’s disease, depends on a wheelchair and can’t do many daily tasks without help.
Prosecutors had raised questions about the extent of his illness and the appropriateness of releasing him so soon.
“Anthony Marshall was convicted of stealing millions of dollars from his 100-year-old mother,” and the parole board’s decision means he will serve a small fraction of his sentence for it, Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said in a statement Thursday.
Astor was a noted philanthropist in New York City and, as a benefactor of New York charities large and small, received the nation’s top civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1998.
She inherited a fortune from her third husband, a descendant of one of the nation’s first multimillionaires, John Jacob Astor.
Brooke Astor died in 2007. She was 105 and had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Marshall, her only child, earned the Purple Heart in the battle of Iwo Jima and later became a U.S. ambassador and Broadway producer. He also managed his mother’s money — and appropriated chunks of it for himself, prosecutors said.
Marshall’s 2009 trial opened a gilded door into New York’s elite social circles, featuring testimony from such Astor friends as Henry Kissinger and Barbara Walters. Jurors saw a video of Astor’s black-tie 100th birthday party at a Rockefeller family estate.
While Astor sank into dementia in her last several years, Marshall used her money to award himself expensive plums — including a $920,000 yacht — and manipulated her to change her will in his favor, prosecutors said. He was accused even of taking art off her Park Avenue walls.
Marshall’s lawyers said he had legal authority to give himself presents from her money. Astor knowingly adjusted her will out of love for him, the defense argued.
Marshall was convicted along with Francis Morrissey Jr., 70, a former estate lawyer found guilty of forging Astor’s signature on a change to her will. Both were sentenced to the minimum terms for their crimes, and the judge said he took “no pleasure in following my duties” when he finally dispatched Marshall to prison in June.
Warner and fellow Marshall lawyer John Cuti said then that there was no justice in imprisoning a man who has trouble swallowing and needs an oxygen tank at night.
“Incarceration will simply make his final days more tortured and undoubtedly fewer in number,” they said in a statement.
Prosecutors said in an Aug. 14 letter to the parole system that they didn’t have enough information on his condition to take a stance on his potential release. But his age shouldn’t be a consideration, Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Lowey argued.
“His release barely two months into his one-to-three year sentence would undoubtedly denigrate the seriousness of elder financial exploitation,” she wrote.
Marshall will remain on parole until June 2016. He had been the fourth-oldest inmate in New York state’s prisons; the oldest is John Bunz, 93 1/2, who pleaded guilty to killing his wife in 2010.
About 400 inmates have been granted parole because of illness since the practice began in New York state in the 1990s, according to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
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