More than three years after Anna Nicole Smith's death, a prosecutor argued Wednesday that three key figures in the Playboy model’s life fed her deadly drug habit even though they knew she was an addict.
The trio, a pair of doctors and Smith's longtime lawyer and sometimes boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, are not charged with causing her death, though they could each get five years behind bars.
Instead, a prosecutor said in opening statements in a Los Angeles courtroom that Stern, Dr. Sanjeep Kapoor and Dr. Khristine Eroshevich acted as conspirators who kept the sex symbol and reality star illegally medicated by providing access to massive amounts of opiates and sedatives under aliases. Smith herself has also been named as a co-conspirator.
"None of it could have happened without Mr. Stern," Deputy District Attorney Renee Rose said on Wednesday after displaying photos of hundreds of prescriptions, according to The Associated Press.
Stern’s lawyer Steve Sadow reportedly shot back that his client was only complying with the “medical judgment of her doctors.”
“He relied on their judgment on what was medically right and necessary for Anna Nicole Smith,” Sadow said, according to the AP. “Anna Nicole had pain, real pain, chronic pain.”
The lawyer argued that Stern “cared and cherished” Smith and did not believe she was an addict.
“He loved her," Sadow said. "This is not a made-for-TV movie. This is his life."
Smith died in February, 2007, of an accidental overdose of at least nine medications while staying at a Florida hotel. She had been living in the Bahamas and was allegedly receiving deliveries of prescription medications from her Los Angeles-based doctors.
Kapoor's lawyer, Ellyn Garafalo, has told the judge then the trial's outcome could have serious consequences for doctors and patients everywhere.
"Criminalizing a doctor's efforts to help a difficult patient is problematic," Kapoor's lawyer, Ellyn Garafalo, told the judge. "A doctor's even poor judgment is not criminal. Good faith is involved. "
Eroshevich's lawyers say she was Smith's pal before becoming her psychiatrist, though prosecutors accuse her of violating the ethics barrier between professional and personal relationships.
Dave Kettel, a former federal prosecutor who handled prescription drug cases, and is now a defense attorney, told the AP the case may be difficult to prove because of the multiple defendants. He said prosecutors could have a hard time showing that the doctors knew they were acting improperly and that one knew what the other was doing.
He also said prosecutors may have erred by naming Smith as a co-conspirator in the case.
"Despite her personal problems, people liked her," he said. "The last couple years of her life were so sad. I don't think anyone wants to blame her."