An 88-year-old heir to a storied fortune, trying to stay out of prison in a case that shook New York society, asked appeals judges through his lawyers Thursday to overturn his conviction on charges of plundering his mother's millions.

Anthony Marshall, the son of the late philanthropist Brooke Astor, watched from a wheelchair as his attorneys and a prosecutor argued about the conduct and outcome of his 2009 trial, which featured Henry Kissinger and Barbara Walters as witnesses and gave the public a peek behind the curtains of the social elite.

Marshall's lawyers argued that he was innocent and prison could kill him. A prosecutor said he deserved to be behind bars for exploiting a dementia-stricken woman. The appeals judges didn't immediately rule; their decisions often take months, and one judge noted Marshall's case is complicated in ways many are not.

"How do we strip away all these things -- class, money, the somewhat privileged and distinguished background -- and evaluate this situation we're in now?" state Supreme Court Appellate Division Justice Richard T. Andrias mused aloud.

Marshall, a former U.S. ambassador and Broadway producer, has been allowed to stay free while he appeals. If he loses, he faces 1 to 3 years in prison, the minimum for his high-level grand larceny conviction.

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He was convicted of taking advantage of his aged mother's mental frailty to help himself to millions of her money -- and even take pricey artwork off her walls -- after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Astor, whose charitable largesse with her $200 million fortune was recognized with the nation's highest civilian honor, was 105 when she died in 2007.

Marshall said he stole nothing: He acted with legal permission when he gave himself gifts with her money during her lifetime, and she knowingly changed her will to benefit her only child, his lawyers said.