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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 23:33 GMT
Ex-Playmate widow awarded $88m
Anna Nicole Smith
Anna Nicole Smith met her late husband in a strip club
A former Playboy model who married an 89-year-old Texas oil tycoon when she was 26, has been awarded $88.6m from his estate after a six-year legal battle.

US District Court Judge David Carter ruled that Anna Nicole Smith was entitled to $44.3m in punitive damages and the same amount in compensatory damages against her former son-in-law.

Anna and J Howard Marshall
Anna with her husband, 63 years her senior
Although her lawyers hailed the decision as a victory, the amount replaced an earlier award of $450m granted to her by a lower court.

Ms Smith, 34, has fought lengthy court battles after being left out of the $1.6bn fortune of J Howard Marshall II, who died in 1995, 14 months after they were married.

Mr Marshall's son, E Pierce Marshall, argued that he was the sole heir and that she should get nothing.

He said his father had left Ms Smith out of his will because she seemed more interested in shopping than spending time with her husband.

Award welcomed

But Ms Smith's lawyer, Philip Boesch, said the ruling in California on Thursday was a "victory for a husband's love for his wife".

"Anna Nicole takes the judgment as a complete victory and is extremely happy," he said.

"She is particularly happy with the judge's express finding that she was the most important person in her husband's life. She liked that the most."

E Pierce Marshall
E Pierce Marshall believes he should be the sole heir
Ms Smith, who was Playboy Magazine's 1993 "Playmate of the Year", contended that her former stepson had interfered with her right to inherit from her husband.

She met the Texas tycoon in the strip club where she worked.

After his death, a legal battle erupted when she claimed her late husband had promised her half his fortune.

Proceedings have been protracted.

In September 2000, a federal bankruptcy judge in Los Angeles awarded the model $449m in damages, but said the amount could change depending on later court rulings.

Then, in March 2001, a court in Texas ruled that Ms Smith was not entitled to any money from her late husband's estate.

Appeal expected

E Pierce Marshall branded Ms Smith a "gold-digger" and argued there was no proof that his father had promised her anything.

He said his father had showered her with homes, cars and jewellery worth $6m.

He also said that his father believed he had made a mistake after marrying Ms Smith.

The court ruling on Thursday is unlikely to be the end of the legal battle, with E Pierce Marshall's lawyers promising to appeal against the judgment.

He said his father would have been appalled by the ruling.

The BBC's David Willis
"One of the most acrimonious inheritance battles since the death of Howard Hawkes"
See also:

28 Sep 00 | Americas
Ex-Playmate shares tycoon's estate
22 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Ex-Playmate sued for $4m
08 Mar 01 | Americas
Court rules against ex-Playmate
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