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Anna Nicole Smith drug trial starts Wednesday

By Alan Duke, CNN
Anna Nicole Smith died on February 8, 2007, from "acute combined drug intoxication" according to a Florida medical examiner.
Anna Nicole Smith died on February 8, 2007, from "acute combined drug intoxication" according to a Florida medical examiner.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Two doctors and Smith's boyfriend are charged
  • The trial could last 3 months
  • Anna Nicole Smith died in 2007 of "drug intoxication"
RELATED TOPICS

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Two doctors who treated Anna Nicole Smith in the months before her death and her lawyer-boyfriend go on trial Wednesday on charges they illegally conspired to provide the actress with drugs.

Steven Sadow, the lead lawyer for Howard K. Stern, said the defense team was "very pleased" with the jury of six men and six women who were sworn in Tuesday afternoon.

Opening statements were scheduled for Wednesday morning. Lawyers predicted the trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court could last up to three months.

Potential jurors were asked more than 100 questions, including personal questions about their prescription drug use.

Smith's boyfriend Stern, along with Drs. Khristine Eroshevich and Sandeep Kapoor, face 23 felony charges, including three counts of conspiracy to dispense and administer controlled substances to a known addict.

The three also are accused of conspiring to use false names to obtain drugs for Smith, a practice defense attorneys have argued was intended to protect the celebrity's privacy.

Smith died February 8, 2007, from what a Florida medical examiner ruled was "acute combined drug intoxication."

Judge Robert Perry dismissed several jurors because of what he called "language problems" or because they expressed opinions suggesting they had already concluded guilt in the case.

The judge described one juror as "dull" and predicted she would become a problem if allowed on the jury.

Judge Perry ruled at the end of a 13-day preliminary hearing last fall that there was probable cause to try Stern and the two doctors for involvement in an alleged conspiracy to provide drugs to a known addict.

"Evidence in the record strongly suggests she was an addict," he said.

Perry said "there was a widespread and ongoing effort" to obtain drugs for Smith, whom he characterized as a "strong-willed person" intent on getting drugs.

The doctors may have been "blinded by the celebrity of their patient," Perry said.

A defense lawyer said the case could have a chilling effect on doctors who treat patients for pain, since the doctors could be held criminally liable if their prescriptions are deemed excessive.

Witnesses described Smith as weak and "zombie-like" much of the time in the months after September 11, 2006, when her 20-year-old son died in the Bahamas hospital room where she was recovering from the birth of her daughter.

Sadow argued that Stern should not be charged because he did not know his companion was an addict or that it was illegal to obtain medication with a prescription written out to a false name.

"He's being charged here with doctor-related activities, which doctors have specific knowledge of and he's just a layperson," Sadow told the judge.

Prosecution witnesses outlined evidence that the doctors wrote many prescriptions using several names, including Stern's, for drugs intended for Smith.

"One of their theories is that the mere prescribing of medications using a pseudonym is a crime and it's rebutted by the fact that some of the most respected hospitals in this city use this practice to protect the privacy of some of their celebrity patients," Eroshevich defense lawyer Adam Braun said.

Prosecutors argued that Stern used the false names to get double doses of dangerous drugs to feed the addiction of the former Playboy model and reality TV star.

Kapoor's lawyer said prosecutors could make it difficult for California doctors to treat their patients for pain.

"If this prosecution is successful, you can all plan to call the D.A. office every time you ask your doctor for a prescription for pain, because that's going to be the standard," attorney Ellyn Garafalo said.

Perry agreed with Braun's argument that Eroshevich, a psychiatrist, "deeply cared for Anna Nicole Smith and was well intentioned" with her treatment.

"I made that observation," the judge said.

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