"Anna Nicole Smith controlled her own life ... strong willed? Understatement."
That's what defense lawyer Steve Sadow told the jury on the opening day of the deceased model's drug conspiracy trial. And that, boiled down to its essence, is the argument that is going to be used to get two doctors and the late Playmate¹s lawyer/boyfriend off serving up to six years behind bars.
It might come as a surprise that even though Smith has been dead for more than three years, this trial of finally just started Wednesday in L.A. Superior Court.
Listening to the convoluted tale told by L.A. County Deputy D.A. Renee Rose, accompanied by a sometimes unreadable power-point presentation, it's a wonder it didn't take longer.
Smith's internist Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, psychiatrist Dr. Kristine Eroshevich and lawyer Howard K. Stern -- all in court, in dark suits -- are charged with overprescribing medication to the Texas-born model, as well as procuring drugs for her under pseudonyms.
With six felony counts each, the three all have pled not guilty.
Starting the proceedings, which are expected to last about a month, Rose's intent was to portray Smith, who died on Feb. 7, 2007, as a virtually helpless addict that the self serving trio manipulated.
Smith, as a subsequent autopsy and investigation revealed, was a pharmacy of Clonazepam, Valium, Atavan and several other painkillers and medications at the time of her death.
As the pre-trial hearings reveal, tales of the model zonked out for days, involuntarily relieving herself in bed and throwing up on herself will be presented to the jury. For Kapoor, Eroshevich and Stern -- as well as everyone else -- that¹s not going to be pretty.
Few would dispute that the vast quanties of prescription medication Smith consumed over the last few years of her life would have made Elvis blush. The fact that she got them under fake names, from multiple doctors, multiple pharmacies in numerous jurisdictions while pregnant and despite an failed detox at Cedar Sinai Medical Center in mid-2006 does point, under California's prohibitive prescription drug laws, to three deliberate crimes of conspiracy being committed -- as Rose stressed again and again on Wednesday.
Rose told the jury that "I'm giving you the big picture" of the wide canvas of events, participants and witnesses. "None of it, the deputy D.A. added, "could have happened without Mr. Stern facilitating."
That was a portrait and characterization that Stern's lawyer rejected as soon it was his turn to giving the first of three defense opening statements.
Admitting that his client played many roles in Smith's life, including lover and lawyer, Sadow claimed Stern did what he did, including getting drugs for the model under his name, because he was relying on the judgement of the doctors and because his beloved Anna "had real pain ... chronic pain."
"He loved her," Sadow said of Stern, who nodded in agreement on the other side of the downtown courtroom. Pullling out a sympathy card for a notoriously unsympathetic individual, the lawyer even hinted at how the present executor of Smith's estate was cuckholded by the model's frequent affairs.
Two of the men Smith slept with during the last years of her life -- Larry Birkhead, with whom she had a child -- and Ben Thompson, will be testifying at the trial.
That testimony, both Rose and Sadow said, may cast the media-saturated events of Smith's last days in a new light. "Motives and timing are going to be critical," said Sadow to the jury of forthcoming witnesses, many of whom had their day in the Larry King sun in the past, "because motives have changed."
"This is not a made-for-TV movie" for Stern, emphasized Sadow with practiced mild urgency. "It's his freedom at stake."
Of course such a conclusion is a long way off and the trial, as defense attorneys are hoping, could lead the judge, jury and facts in many different directions.
One direction it will not go, however, is murder.
As Judge Robert Perry made clear during jury selection earlier this week, the trio are not charged with Smith¹s death. Perry has distinctly ruled that evidence on and about her death, which was deemed an accidental prescription-drug overdose, in Hollywood, Florida, is not to be allowed before the jury.