LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A judge on Thursday dropped the criminal charges against the ex-boyfriend of dead model and TV actress Anna Nicole Smith even after he was convicted two months ago of supplying her with drugs before her death.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry dismissed two counts of conspiring to provide prescription drugs against Howard K. Stern, 42, Smith’s lawyer and boyfriend at the time of her death in 2007, saying there was “insufficient evidence,” despite the fact a jury had convicted him in October.
The judge did say that prosecutors could decide to retry him on the two felony accounts if they desired.
Judge Perry also dismissed three of four charges on which Smith’s former psychiatrist, Dr. Khristine Eroshevich, 63, was convicted. The judge let stand one count against her of unlawfully obtaining a prescription by using a false name, but he reduced it to a lesser misdemeanor, fined her $100 and placed her on probation for one year.
Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, whose office prosecuted the case, issued a statement saying “we strongly disagree” with the decision and vowed to appeal.
Judge Perry dismissed the charges at Thursday’s sentencing for the two defendants, saying there was no evidence of a conspiracy and that he believed Smith suffered from chronic pain and needed the drugs.
“This case should never have been brought,” Stern’s lawyer Steve Sadow said outside the court. “It was a waste of time and a waste of effort. And it impacted people’s lives in a horrible way.”
Stern called the trial “totally inappropriate” and Eroshevich said she was “grateful” at the outcome.
The two were convicted on October 28 after a lengthy trial in which prosecutors claimed they and another of Smith’s doctors conspired to furnish her with drugs during her life. A third defendant, Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, was acquitted on all charges.
Smith, a Playboy model and TV star who also was famous for marrying an 89-year-old oil tycoon who was 63 years her senior, died of an accidental prescription drug overdose at age 39.
Stern and the doctors were never charged with her death, but prosecutors tried to paint a picture of physicians who overprescribed medication to a drug addict, and a companion, Stern, who worked with them to keep the actress supplied.
While Stern was convicted of the two charges, the jury acquitted him of seven other counts, and back in September after both sides had rested their cases, Judge Perry slammed prosecutors for an over-aggressive pursuit of the defendants.
But Cooley on Thursday defended his office in a statement that said Perry’s decision ”denigrates the substantial investigative efforts conducted by the state Department of Justice and the Medical Board. It diminishes the huge social problem of prescription drug abuse facilitated by irresponsible caretakers and unscrupulous medical professionals.
“We will immediately pursue all appellate remedies to overturn Judge Perry’s decision,” Cooley said.
One day earlier, prosecutors signaled that Stern and Eroshevich would likely escape prison when they recommended to Judge Perry that both should receive probation.
Reporting and Writing by Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Greg McCune and Peter Bohan