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Judge's verdict in case of late boxer Gatti's fortune: It belongs to his wife

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MONTREAL - A judge has weighed in with a clear, unequivocal decision in a legal dispute over who should inherit late boxer Arturo Gatti's money.

The winner: his widow, Amanda Rodrigues.

The verdict Friday came after a deeply personal legal battle over the $3.4 million fortune, which pitted the widow of the world-champion Canadian boxer against his mother and youngest brother.

The judge ruled that Gatti's last will — signed in 2009 — was legitimate and that Rodrigues did not manipulate him into signing it.

"Mr. Gatti voluntarily signed the will in 2009 and named Ms. Rodrigues as his sole heir," Quebec Superior Court Justice Claudine Roy wrote.

"Ms. Rodrigues did not control or manipulate Mr. Gatti in order to benefit herself."

The Gatti family, along with the mother of his other child, have argued that the boxer was duped into signing that will, just weeks before his mysterious death at a Brazilian resort in 2009.

That will left everything to Rodrigues.

The family argued that an older will should have been considered valid instead. That U.S. will from 2007 leaves everything to them, but a signed copy has never been found.

The Gatti family does not accept conclusions that the former champ killed himself; during the recent civil trial, their legal team pummelled Rodrigues with questions about the leadup to his death.

Rodrigues was initially arrested in the case, then released without charge by Brazilian authorities.

That death was ultimately ruled a suicide by Brazilian authorities and a recently released Quebec coroner's report says there are no obvious signs of foul play.

Rodrigues said that out of respect for Gatti she will let her son, Arturo Jr., have a relationship with his grandmother.

But she expressed doubt that she would ever make peace with her in-laws-turned-rivals.

"I don't know if I'll ever be able to be friends with them again," she told Montreal radio station 98.5 FM. "In my heart, to be honest with you, even though I they hurt me a lot, I don't have any bad feelings."

Her victory in a Quebec courtroom is by no means the end of her legal battles.

There is a court date in early January in New Jersey to deal with a wrongful-death suit by Gatti's former girlfriend Erika Rivera, the mother of his daughter, Sofia.

There is also a trial in Florida scheduled for May involving a man suing Gatti for injuries he allegedly received from the late boxer.

During the Quebec trial, the judge expressed concern that the fortune was being whittled away by all the legal wrangling, including separate cases in the U.S.

Rodrigues's lawyer, Pierre-Hugues Fortin, said Friday that there is still money left despite the legal entanglements. He said the estate is worth anywhere from $3 million to $3.5 million.

Until the legal issues are completely resolved the estate assets, which are scattered between the U.S. and Canada, will remain partially frozen.

The couple's rocky relationship — exacerbated by heavy drinking on Gatti's part — was central to the case.

Roy wrote in her verdict that while the couple had its share of fights and reconciliations, they were still together when Gatti died.

And she said there's no evidence Rodrigues did anything wrong.

Questions about the night of Gatti's death had been limited by the judge, who pointed out during the trial that it was a civil case involving a will, not a homicide case.

The judge had called such questions a "fishing expedition" — and she forced the Gatti family lawyers to stop asking them.

In her verdict, Roy added: "(The family) did not state nor prove that Ms. Rodrigues might have been involved in the death of her husband."

The Montreal trial often took on a soap-opera atmosphere and was often overshadowed by events outside the Montreal courtroom.

While the case was being heard, three television news documentaries looking into Gatti's death aired, all of them suggesting that while his death was mysterious, he had already exhibited signs of depression and suicidal tendencies.

A few days into the trial, the results of a private probe into Gatti's death, commissioned by his former manager, were made public. That report called the death a homicide.

But in November, a Quebec coroner's report ruled that while his death was violent, there was no "clear and hard evidence" that it involved foul play and it suggested that suicide remained a plausible explanation.

Nicknamed "Thunder," Gatti was a popular junior welterweight champion who retired in 2007 with a career record of 40 wins and nine losses.

He rose to prominence while living in the United States, developing a reputation for being able to withstand severe punishment in the ring.

The Gatti family's lawyer has 30 days to appeal. A secretary answering at Carmine Mercadante's office said the lawyer had no comment on the judgment.

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