EDITOR'S NOTE: An article in the May 2005 issue of The Atlantic—"The Coming Death Shortage," by Charles Mann—made reference to a case involving E. Pierce Marshall and the estate of his father, J. Howard Marshall II. The references to the case were intended to make an illustrative point for the remainder of the article, and not intended to cast Mr. Marshall in an unflattering light. The article was written before the legal process was complete, and it cited the decision and commentary of one judge in one aspect of the case. Because it did not take note of subsequent developments, which occurred prior to publication, and because it did not take note of the legal history leading up to the judge's comments, the article left a wrong impression of the outcome and of Mr. Marshall, and we apologize for the omissions.
By way of background for interested readers, here is a fuller account of the case. In March of 2001, after six months of trial and testimony from forty witnesses, a jury in the Texas Probate Court found that there was no evidence to support the existence of any oral promise by J. Howard Marshall II to provide Anna Nicole Smith with any money from his estate after his death. With the exception of Ms. Smith (who was threatened with perjury charges for lying under oath), no witness has come forward in any court to support her claim. The jury also found that there was no wrongdoing of any kind on the part of E. Pierce Marshall or any other person connected with the Marshall Estate with respect to that estate or to Anna Nicole Smith. It dismissed accusations of "attempting to seize control of assets," of "undue influence," and of "document destruction." It should be noted that J. Howard Marshall II had made no reference to Ms. Smith of any kind in any of his wills, trusts, or other estate planning documents. These documents have been upheld as valid and binding on all parties by both the Texas Probate jury and by the United States Courts. The Harris County Probate Court is the only court ever to conduct a trial on the issues. The decision and commentary by the judge cited in Mr. Mann's article, which followed the Texas jury verdict by a year, were made by that judge not in the context of a jury trial but on a rehearing from a decision issued by a bankruptcy court in California. That judge's ruling and the bankruptcy court decision were made moot when they were stayed and then overturned by the U.S. Appellate Court for the Ninth Circuit in December 2004.