Anna Nicole Smith case: L.A. district attorney criticizes judge's decision to throw out counts
Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley criticized a Los Angeles Superior Court judge's decision to throw out four of six convictions in the drug trial involving the death of model Anna Nicole Smith.
Judge Robert Perry dismissed both charges against Smith's manager and companion, Howard K. Stern.
Cooley said in a statement that his office would “pursue all appellate remedies to overturn Judge Perry’s decision.”
“The jury deliberated more than two weeks and reached a fair and thorough verdict in accordance with the law and the evidence we were allowed to present,” Cooley said, adding that the judge’s ruling was “inconsistent” with his previous rulings and the trial.
Cooley said the dismissal “diminishes the huge social problem of prescription drug abuse facilitated by irresponsible caretakers and unscrupulous medical professionals.”
He did not say whether prosecutors would be seeking a retrial on counts on which the jury deadlocked.
The decision brought a surprising end to the long-running and high-profile case.
"I find that the evidence at trial was so lacking and insufficient ... that I do believe the interest of justice supports dismissal of these counts for Mr. Stern," Perry said.
He said it was clear that Stern was only trying to protect Smith's privacy in getting powerful sedatives and benzodiazepines for her under aliases, and that Stern did not realize that such conduct could be a violation of the law.
Perry also said he believed, based on the evidence in the case, that Smith was not an addict under the law.
Prosecutors had initially charged Dr. Khristine Eroshevich, Stern and Smith's primary-care physician, Sandeep Kapoor, with prescribing to an addict.
The judge vacated one of the remaining felony counts against the doctor and reduced a final felony count to a misdemeanor. On the misdemeanor, Perry sentenced Eroshevich to one year summary probation and a $100 fine. Prosecutors had asked that she be sentenced to five years' felony probation, 300 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine.
Judge Perry, who expressed skepticism about the prosecution’s case during the trial, said from the bench Thursday that the jury’s verdict –- returning six convictions out of the initial 23 charges – was “a stunning repudiation of the prosecution’s case.”
He said errors in the case stemmed from a “misunderstanding on the part of the prosecution in conspiracy law,” adding that he regretted not taking action earlier on in the case. “No doubt, there are doctors who are nothing more than pill pushers ... This case did not involve such doctors,” Perry said.
Perry said he was persuaded by the evidence in the trial that Smith was a patient suffering from chronic pain syndrome that was not sufficiently controlled. Mentioning the case of actress Farrah Fawcett, whose medical records were improperly accessed by hospital employees, Perry said there was a legitimate reason for using aliases on prescriptions for sensitive drugs.
“I accept in this media-driven society, there is an interest for celebrities to protect their privacy,” he said. Outside court, the defendants and their attorneys praised Perry’s ruling and said the judge’s comments were also vindication for Anna Nicole Smith.
Eroshevich said she felt “redeemed.” “I can admit my mistakes and move on,” she said.
Stern said he felt the prosecution was motivated by publicity. “They didn’t care at what cost, they didn’t care whose lives they destroyed in the process,” he said.
-- Victoria Kim