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Stevens allowed Howard Sr. to manage her financial affairs even after their divorce. After all, as she states in the deposition, Howard Sr. was "a great man, who had great business imagination -- the kind that leads to making profitable decisions." They remained friends and spoke frequently until his death. During those conversations, Stevens testified, Howard Sr. never wavered in his desire to disinherit their older son after his attempted coup in 1980. The situation, she said, caused her much grief.
According to Stevens, she learned of their falling-out via a phone call from Howard Sr., who was nearly in tears. He called her in December 1980, shortly after he had bought the Koch stock from his son.
"He was terribly upset," recalled Stevens, "and he thought that I should know this thing that had happened because Howard Jr. was the child of both of us. And he was extremely upset, angry and outraged."
Stevens said Howard Sr. said he'd given their son $8 million to buy back the Koch stock, but that "there won't be any more."
"And I asked him, 'Does that mean you won't leave him anything in your will?' And he said, 'That's exactly what I mean,' in a very angry and decisive tone."
Stevens said that she also spoke directly to Howard Jr. about the rift between him and his father. During a visit with her son and his wife in California, Howard Jr. and his wife talked openly about expecting to inherit from Howard Sr. Stevens says she took the opportunity to set them straight.
"I thought it was too bad," testified Stevens, "because I knew that it was not going to be so, and I told them that." Her words, she said, were met with what she perceived as a stunned silence.
Though she very much hoped that her ex-husband would change his mind, Howard Sr. continued to stick to his guns regarding Howard Jr. In 1993, said Stevens, she and Howard Sr. were having a cup of coffee during a family wedding rehearsal dinner. As they talked casually, Stevens asked Howard Sr. if he was still insisting on not leaving Howard Jr. anything in his will.
"And he said, 'Damn right!' " said Stevens. "He was still mad. Still outraged."
But the evidence perhaps most damaging to Howard Jr.'s claim to his father's estate -- what Pierce's attorneys call their smoking gun -- are the words of Howard Jr. himself in what is known as the "Dear Woofy" letter.
On December 4, 1992 -- almost 12 years to the day after he claims to have struck a verbal agreement with his father allowing him to share in the estate -- Howard Jr. wrote Stevens, whom he addressed by her nickname, Woofy. He began the letter by rubbing his mother's nose in his father's romantic affairs.
"He has bragged about his affair with Lady Walker," wrote Howard Jr., "saying he was proud to exhibit such a pretty, younger woman on his arm. Now he is totally enamored with his Playboy Centerfold and is considering adding marriage to his lavish gifts to her."
Howard Jr. lashed out at his mother for never standing up to his father, whom he describes as a "vindictive" and "brutal" man who "maliciously uses his wealth for dominance."
After those harsh words comes a sentence that Howard Jr. must surely wish he'd never written: "I have no regrets regarding my decision in 1980, and prefer to live my life independently of my father, even at expense of a large inheritance."
During the trial last summer, Howard Jr. tried to explain the letter by saying he was obviously angry, angry because he had learned that that he would not receive as much as his brother from his mother's estate -- an estate which was controlled by Howard Sr. He also explained that when he wrote the words "at the expense of a large inheritance," he was referring to his father's initial threat to cut him out of the will, a threat he says was dropped.
But in the view of one attorney involved in the litigation, who asked not to be named, "that letter just kills Howard's case. Instead of a smoking gun, it's more like a neutron bomb."
To the dismay of Pierce Marshall and his attorneys, so far the fallout hasn't been deadly.
Not since the 1970s fight over the fortune of Howard Hughes Jr. has an estate generated so much paperwork for Harris County's probate court. Marshall-related documents filed there are said to number somewhere between 800,000 and 1,000,000.
Last week, probate court judge Mike Wood consolidated all the lawsuits against the estate, including one by Anna Nicole Smith; now all will be considered at the same time as Howard Jr.'s claims. Wood also set the case's trial date for the next millennium: January 24, 2000.
Though there has been consolidation, there is no conciliation. Howard Jr.'s lawyers are led by husband-and-wife team Jack and Dianne Lawter. During the discovery phase of the trial, the Lawters requested so many documents that a special master was appointed to oversee them all. When those documents were not produced fast enough to suit them, Jim Scanlan, the original judge in the case, came down hard on Pierce's team.
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