The son of actor Marlon Brando was arrested for investigation of murder early Thursday after the boyfriend of the actor's daughter was shot to death at the elegant Brando estate overlooking Hollywood.
Detectives said Christian Brando, 32, told them he shot Dag Drollet, 26, once in the head at about 10:40 p.m. Wednesday after angrily accusing Drollet of "slapping around" Christian's pregnant 20-year-old half-sister, Cheyenne Brando.
Although police said there was no sign of a struggle, the actor's son told them Drollet tried to grab the gun before Christian Brando fired the single shot.
Family members told investigators that Drollet's alleged abuse of Cheyenne Brando was an apparently isolated incident that occurred shortly before the slaying. Detectives said the young woman was not believed to be seriously hurt and bore no signs of injury. They did not say when the baby is expected or who the father is.
"We're not sure Christian was totally sober, but it doesn't appear to be some sort of drink fest," said Lt. Ron Hall, commander of the Los Angeles Police Department's West Los Angeles Division. "There were definitely no drugs."
The reclusive 66-year-old actor, his wife Tarita Tariipia and Cheyenne Brando were in the home at the time of the slaying and all heard the fatal shot, but none witnessed the shooting, according to Hall. The lieutenant said no one else was in the home at the time.
Marlon Brando tried to revive Drollet with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and called the 911 emergency number to summon police minutes after the shooting, according to attorney William Kunstler, who is representing the actor's son.
Police declined to release a tape recording or transcript of Brando's call to the emergency number, saying it may be used as evidence.
Hall said that arriving officers recovered the weapon used in the shooting, a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol, along with a shotgun, a .44-caliber carbine and two unregistered, fully automatic firearms--an Uzi submachine gun and an M-14 rifle.
"Christian has indicated that he was a gun enthusiast," Hall said, "but he has not given any other reason for why he had the weapons."
The shooting took place in the den of the Brando home. The Academy Award-winning actor, his wife and daughter were in other parts of the 12-room house, according to Hall.
Christian Brando and the other family members all waited in the home until police arrived, "and everyone, including Christian, was cooperative," Hall said.
Brando's single-story home and a nearby guest house are part of a sprawling, three-home complex on a two-acre site atop the Santa Monica Mountains, a few hundred yards west of Coldwater Canyon. The other two homes on the property belong to actor Jack Nicholson, according to property tax records.
Nicholson lives in one of the homes, but it was not known whether he was there when the shooting took place. The other home is rented to a Greek actress, Helena Kallianiotes, who once owned a trendy restaurant in Los Angeles called Helena's.
A tall wrought-iron fence surrounds the secluded, heavily wooded residential complex. None of the houses is visible from the street. The gate across the single driveway leading to the three homes is topped with a spiral of barbed razor wire.
The complex earned notoriety in 1977 when director Roman Polanski was arrested and charged with having unlawful sexual intercourse at one of the Nicholson homes with a 13-year-old girl. Nicholson was away on vacation at the time. Polanski pleaded guilty to the charge, but fled the country to avoid sentencing in 1978. He has never returned.
Dozens of news reporters gathered outside the gates of the complex on Thursday, searching for any scrap of information they could find to flesh out their stories. Some resorted to sifting though trash in a bin outside the compound, but all they found were a few fan letters addressed to Nicholson.
Helicopters bearing photographers circled overhead and carloads of people stopped to gawk.
At noon, Nicholson himself drove up and motored quickly though the gate, ignoring questions shouted at him by reporters. Christian's half-brother, Miko Brando, drove through the gate a couple of times, but he, too, ignored questions. No other members of the Brando family were seen.
Lt. Hall said detectives learned during interviews with the Brando family early Thursday that Drollet had maintained "a romantic relationship" with Cheyenne Brando for some time and had been staying in the Brando home since arriving here from Tahiti about 10 days ago.
Hall said that--like the actor's wife, Tarita, who co-starred with him in their remake of the film "Mutiny on The Bounty"--the slain man was of Pacific Island extraction. Marlon Brando owns a small, relatively undeveloped atoll 40 miles north of Tahiti called Tetiaroa.
Drollet was a member of a prominent Tahitian family that is influential in the politics of French Polynesia, according to sources in Tahiti.
His father, Jacques-Denis Drollet, held several posts in the territorial government before retiring.
"Oh, my God!" the elder Drollet said when a caller from the television show "Hard Copy" informed him that his son had been killed. "He was a good boy. Now it's all over."
On the show, broadcast locally on KNBC-TV Thursday evening, Drollet said he knew his son was "involved in some courtship relation with Cheyenne Brando. But I didn't know they were having . . . problems."
Dag Drollet's cousin, Jacqui Drollet, is the equivalent of a cabinet minister, overseeing health and environmental issues in the islands. Jacqui Drollet is also the leader of what Al Prince, publisher of the English-language Tahiti Sun Press, called a "moderate" movement that is seeking independence from France.
Dag Drollet himself had worked in the territorial government, Prince said. From 1986 until October, 1989, he was employed by an agency responsible for stocking and providing spare parts for heavy machinery in the outer islands. More than 100 islands compose French Polynesia.
Drollet and Cheyenne Brando, who is known for her startling beauty, had been living together for more than a year before a separation about two months ago, Prince said in a telephone interview.
Manea Pambrun, a 27-year-old Tahiti resident who described himself as "Dag's best friend," told the Sun Press that Cheyenne Brando had been depressed over the relationship. Marlon Brando, said to be protective of his daughter, had visited Tahiti in recent months to be with her.
Although Drollet and Cheyenne Brando were no longer living together, they traveled to Los Angeles on the same flight several days ago, Pambrun said.
Pambrun said he had never heard of Drollet physically abusing Cheyenne Brando. Pambrun also said Drollet had described his relationship with Marlon Brando as good. According to the Sun Press, Tahiti police authorities had no criminal record for either Drollet or Christian Brando.
Bob Dambacher, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner's office, said Thursday afternoon that pathologists confirmed that Drollet had died from a single gunshot wound in the head.
Dambacher said Marlon Brando was attempting to notify the victim's family in Tahiti.
"He wanted to do that personally," Dambacher said. "That's what he indicated to our investigator, that he, personally, wanted to make notification to the mother. . . . They're supposed to be long-time friends."
Christian Brando was booked at the West Los Angeles police station on suspicion of murder. Thursday evening he was confined alone in a special cell that is kept under constant supervision by police and jail personnel, police said.
Additional charges may be filed in connection with the automatic weapons, police said. Brando was ordered held without bail. Arraignment is expected in West Los Angeles Municipal Court sometime today.
Kunstler, a noted 1960s-era civil rights attorney who has long been a friend of Marlon Brando, said Los Angeles lawyers Barry Litt and Daniel Stormer will join him in representing Christian Brando.
Kunstler said in a telephone interview from New York that a "distraught" Marlon Brando called him early Thursday and asked him to take the case.
"Some of the facts I've heard just over the phone indicate it might be self-defense," Kunstler said. "I understand there may have been a struggle for the gun, and some beating going on of Marlon's daughter. . . . (Christian) may have been defending his sister."
Christian Brando was described by his former wife, Mary McKenna Brando, as a man who was "very protective of his sister," but not the sort who would kill someone.
She declined to comment further. However, court records from their divorce show that he frequently resorted to violence and once threatened to kill his wife.
Times staff writers Kenneth J. Garcia, Nieson Himmel, Bob Pool, George Ramos and Louis Sahagun contributed to this story.