A 40-inch by 40-inch canvas bearing the silk-screened image of actress Farrah Fawcett, an Andy Warhol creation that became the subject of a 2 1/2-year legal battle, belongs to the star's longtime companion Ryan O'Neal, a Los Angeles jury decided Thursday.
The panel sided with O'Neal over the University of Texas at Austin, the actress' alma mater, which said the painting was bequeathed to the school along with her art collection after Fawcett's death in 2009. The trial over the portrait lasted three weeks and became, in part, a scrutiny of O'Neal and Fawcett's relationship.
The jury voted 9 to 3 in favor of the Oscar-nominated actor, who wasn't in court due to a medical procedure. His son, Patrick O'Neal, said his father would have loved to have been present for the reading of the verdict.
"It's not even about victory. It's about redemption," he said. "We are happy the truth came out."
The University of Texas released a statement saying the school was disappointed by the outcome and that it brought the lawsuit "only because we wanted to honor her legacy."
"In her living trust she left 'all of her artwork and art objects' to the University of Texas, and we thought it important to try to enforce her intent," school representatives said in the statement.
The trial took jurors back to 1980, shortly after Fawcett and O'Neal began dating. That year, Warhol invited Fawcett to his New York studio for a portrait to be used in an upcoming interview with ABC's "20/20." O'Neal, now 72, took the stand and said Warhol created two nearly identical portraits and gave one to Fawcett and one to him.
"It's her presence, her presence in my life, in her son's life," he testified about the canvas that hangs above his bed at his Malibu home.
The university argued that both portraits had belonged to Fawcett, and that the one in O'Neal's possession became the school's upon her death. Attorneys for the school attempted to show that the couple's love faded in later years, calling to the stand a college boyfriend of Fawcett who said they had rekindled their romance before her death.
During closing arguments Monday, attorneys for both sides tried to convince jurors of the love between the two — or lack thereof — to make the case that the Warhol belonged to their respective clients.
David Beck, an attorney for the university, showed jurors a note Fawcett wrote to O'Neal after she found him in bed with another woman in February 1997, telling them their relationship was not the love affair O'Neal painted it to be.
"She said she felt pitiful," Beck said. "She said she felt disgraced. She said that she was in shock and she said that she was overcome with sadness."
He told jurors the note was evidence that O'Neal wasn't the rightful owner of the portrait.
"Please, please speak for Farrah, for she cannot speak for herself," he said.
O'Neal's lawyer dismissed the assertion and contended that their relationship remained strong near the very end, as Fawcett battled the cancer that ultimately killed her.
"Do you believe for one second he didn't love Farrah? Do you believe for one second she didn't love him?" attorney Martin Singer asked jurors. "They were both there for each other."
Jurors did not make a determination on the value of the portrait. Art appraisers who testified at the trial gave dramatically different opinions on what it was worth, giving price tags ranging from $800,000 to $12 million.
O'Neal filed a countersuit against the university, demanding the return of a cloth napkin — also referred to as a tablecloth during the trial — on which Warhol wrote "To Farrah F. and Ryan O." Jurors found that the napkin was jointly owned by O'Neal and Fawcett.
O'Neal will propose that the "Andy Warhol Napkin" be sold at auction to benefit the Farrah Fawcett Foundation, attorney Todd Eagan said.
Times staff writer Paresh Dave contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times