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Brando’s Son Faces 1 Charge of Murder : Slaying: Police discount defense claims that shooting occurred during a struggle. Christian Brando also faces two gun counts.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As Christian Brando was charged Friday with murdering his half sister’s Tahitian boyfriend, authorities challenged defense claims that the son of actor Marlon Brando accidentally fired the gun during a struggle between the two men.

Investigators disclosed that Dag Drollet, 26, was sitting in front of a television with a remote control in one hand and a cigarette lighter in the other when he was shot in the face late Wednesday night. They also said there was no evidence of a struggle in the den of Marlon Brando’s 12-room house in the Santa Monica Mountains, where the shooting allegedly took place.

A coroner’s spokesman would only say that the “cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head and neck.” A knowledgeable source told The Times that Drollet was shot at close range, with the bullet entering the left side of his face and exiting the lower back of his neck.

“We feel it did not happen as (defense attorneys) have alleged,” Detective Andy Monsue said.

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Los Angeles Fire Capt. Tom Jefferson, who was first on the scene after the Academy Award-winning actor called 911 for assistance, described the den as “very neat” when he arrived and found the victim’s body.

“He was lying back on the couch, kind of like he was watching TV,” Jefferson said of Drollet, who had come to Los Angeles from Tahiti about 10 days ago with Christian’s pregnant 20-year-old half sister, Cheyenne Brando. “The TV was still on. It was flipping channels like he was still pushing the buttons.”

Defense attorney William Kunstler, speaking outside the West Los Angeles Municipal Court where Christian Brando was arraigned Friday afternoon, said his client told him that the gun accidentally discharged during a scuffle with Drollet over his alleged mistreatment of Cheyenne. The attorney said Brando was moving his gun collection--including the suspected murder weapon--to his father’s estate for safekeeping.

“Christian says it was an accident,” Kunstler said. “He had been told by Cheyenne she’d been abused. He didn’t mean for the gun to go off. But it did go off.”

Monsue said, however, that “there was no physical abuse ever involved.”

Investigators said Christian Brando told them that Drollet tried to grab the gun before the fatal shot was fired, a scenario police viewed with skepticism because Drollet was found sitting on a couch with the television remote control and cigarette lighter in his hands.

Defense attorneys, in turn, dispute the conclusions of police and prosecutors.

“On one hand you could say it (the shooting scene) doesn’t suggest a struggle,” Kunstler said. “On the other hand, being involved in a struggle doesn’t necessarily mean things are dropped. The police will read into it what they want.”

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Prosecutors charged Christian Brando with murder, illegal possession of a machine gun and illegal possession of a silencer. The gun charges stem from weapons in Christian’s gun collection. The guns were found by police at the Brando estate but were not used in the shooting.

Young Brando, wearing black jeans and a gray sport shirt with rolled-up sleeves, was led into the courtroom with his head bowed and his hands shackled behind his back. He pleaded not guilty to all three charges through his attorneys, and sat passively as they argued with prosecutors over whether to conduct a bail hearing later Friday. He spoke only occasionally with his attorneys and stared straight ahead.

Defense attorneys, insisting that Brando poses no threat to the community, had said they would seek bail of about $200,000, but police recommended that prosecutors oppose any request for bail.

“We are talking about a heinous crime of murder with a weapon being used, and based on that violent crime we are recommending against bail,” Lt. Ronald Hall said.

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After Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven Barshop argued that he was not prepared for a bail hearing, Municipal Judge Rosemary Shumsky scheduled the matter for Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. The decision brought an angry reaction from defense attorneys outside the courtroom.

“To make this young man sit in jail over the weekend is an outrage,” said Kunstler, a noted 1960s-era civil rights attorney from New York who has long been a friend of Marlon Brando.

Daniel Stormer, Christian Brando’s Los Angeles attorney, said the district attorney’s office wanted to keep Brando in jail over the weekend to attract more publicity because Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner is running for state attorney general.

“If Ira Reiner was not in an attorney general race, they never would have done what they did,” he said. “They’re milking this case for publicity.”

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Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, responded that the case was handled routinely and that Reiner has not been involved. “Murder is a no-bail offense,” she said. “The fact that the defendant is accused of killing someone has absolutely no relation with anyone’s political ambitions.”

After the 10-minute hearing, Christian Brando was led back to jail, where he will remain until at least Tuesday.

Ronald L. Kuby, a Kunstler associate, said he talked to Christian Brando in jail early Friday. “He’s very strong,” the attorney said. “He’s very determined. He’s going to fight this thing.”

Kunstler said, “He feels terrible about it (Drollet’s death), as anybody would. It’s one of those tragic circumstances that happens in families sometimes.”

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The attorney said Marlon Brando told him that he would be willing to testify in his son’s defense at a bail hearing or trial if called upon. “He will do whatever he has to do for his son, like any father would do,” he said.

Detectives interviewed the actor for 4 1/2 hours at his estate after the slaying was reported. Detective Monsue said Friday that the elder Brando was at home when the shooting occurred but did not witness it.

More than 100 reporters and spectators crammed the courtroom for the hearing. Bailiffs repeatedly had to call for the crowd to clear the aisles. Among the spectators was Christian Brando’s ex-wife, Mary McKenna Brando, who would not speak with reporters. Marlon Brando did not attend the hearing.

One young woman, who identified herself as a close friend of the actor’s son, left the courtroom wiping tears from her cheeks.

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“Christian has a good heart,” Gina Sprague said. “He loves his friends and we all love him. Christian would not intentionally hurt anyone.”

Another spectator, Duke Williams, described himself as a musician and a friend of Christian Brando for the last eight years. “He’s one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet,” Williams said. “To say that I’m shocked is an understatement.”

He said Christian Brando is a gun aficionado. “Like some people are fascinated with guitars or trophies, Christian was fascinated with guns,” he said.

Christian Brando, 32, is the son of Marlon Brando and actress Anna Kashfi, whose divorce from the Academy Award-winning actor and subsequent custody battle over young Christian were played out in gossip columns around the world. Cheyenne Brando is the daughter of Brando and his current wife, Tarita Tariipia, who co-starred with him in the remake of the film “Mutiny on the Bounty” in 1962.

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Times staff writers Kenneth J. Garcia, Eric Malnic, Josh Meyer and Ronald L. Soble contributed to this story.


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