It's a Daddy! Photographer Is Dannielynn's Father

By Tamara Jones
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Larry Birkhead is the winner in the megamillion-dollar dial-a-daddy sweepstakes over paternity of the late Anna Nicole Smith's daughter, DNA tests revealed yesterday, but final custody of the baby remains unresolved.

"I told you so!" Birkhead crowed to the throng of reporters, TV cameras and cruise ship tourists waiting outside the cupcake-pink courthouse in Nassau after a Bahamian judge ruled behind closed doors that he was the biological father of Dannielynn Hope Marshall Stern, who was born on the island last Sept. 7. "I'm going to the toy store!"

Lawyer Howard K. Stern, who had signed the baby's birth certificate and asserted under oath in a Florida court last month that he was the father, embraced Birkhead outside the courtroom and appeared unrattled by the ruling against him.

"Larry can come over to the house and spend as much time as he wants right now," Stern declared outside the courthouse, adding that he favors a "gradual transition period" for the 7-month-old baby.

But even as Birkhead, a 34-year-old paparazzo from Burbank, Calif., prattled happily about being "able to start a life with my daughter," Stern and Smith's estranged mother hinted at more legal wrangling to come. A hearing on custody and guardianship is scheduled for Friday.

Virgie Arthur suggested that she might now seek joint custody of Dannielynn, telling reporters she looked forward to "working with Larry raising my granddaughter." Her lawyer noted that, "in this jurisdiction, there can be two guardians."

Stern, who bitterly fought with Arthur over the right to bury Smith after she died of a drug overdose Feb. 8, immediately pledged his allegiance to the Birkhead camp, vowing to do "whatever we can to make sure he gets sole custody."

The key players in the case all said a gag order prevented them from discussing details about custody, visitation and other matters apparently still before the court.

Since the former Playboy centerfold's sudden death at 39, some half-dozen men -- including an impotent German prince and a jailed stalker -- had emerged as possible contenders in the high-stakes race to claim Dannielynn, who has been raised by Stern in a rented mansion in the Bahamas since her mother's death.

Stern remains the executor of Smith's estate, of undetermined value. But the model's will named only her son -- now dead -- as an heir. Dannielynn could potentially now inherit not only her mother's estate, but also her mother's epic legal battle for a share of the fortune left in 1995 by oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II, the wheelchair-bound octogenarian she married at age 26. Although she never lived with him, Smith spent the past decade fighting all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court for an inheritance once estimated to be around half a billion dollars -- which would have given her more than $1 million a day for the 14 months that they were married.

The case is still pending in federal court, but the attorney for the Marshall family said Tuesday that it's unlikely Dannielynn will ever see any of the late Texas tycoon's money.

"I'll be very surprised if the courts ever award her anything. I don't want to sound mean to the little girl," lawyer Rusty Hardin said in a telephone interview from Hong Kong, where he was on a business trip. Smith at one point was awarded $88 million, but she never collected because the family appealed. During their relationship, Marshall gave Smith "over $8 million, but she just went through all that," Hardin said. Initially, Smith would have been eligible for several million dollars under Texas's community property laws, Hardin said, but she waived her right to the inheritance to pursue her claim that Marshall had verbally promised her half his entire fortune.

Testimony by Stern and Birkhead about their relationship with Smith during the hearing over custody of her body made it clear that she was the one financing the champagne lifestyle during both affairs.

Regardless of the Marshall case, Birkhead and Stern stand to earn potential millions if they decide to sell movie or book rights to their respective stories, or to peddle exclusive photographs.

Smith reportedly collected $400,000 from the tabloid that bought photographs of her 20-year-old son's body after he died in her hospital room in the Bahamas three days after Dannielynn was born. Authorities concluded that a combination of drugs, including methadone and antidepressants, killed Daniel Smith, but a coroner's inquest is still pending in the Bahamas to determine whether his death was the result of an accident, homicide or suicide.

Smith is buried alongside her son on the island, and Stern vowed Tuesday to remain in the Bahamas. "I'm not going to leave Anna and Daniel alone," he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company