Actor Marlon Brando's son was ordered Tuesday to stand trial for the murder of his half sister's boyfriend, despite his contention that the shooting was accidental.
Los Angeles Municipal Judge Larry Fidler set bail for Christian Brando at $10 million, believed the highest amount in county history, and ordered him to surrender his passport to help ensure his appearance for arraignment in Santa Monica Superior Court on Aug. 7.
Brando will be tried for murder and possession of an illegal weapon, an assault rifle not used in the slaying.
Defense attorney Robert Shapiro thanked the judge and told reporters that the Brando family is "anxiously awaiting his return home," although the lawyer did not say how soon the money, or equivalent property, would be posted.
Shapiro told the judge that the amount of bail is "not an issue," given the family's resources.
Prosecutors had sought no bail, noting that Brando's sister, Cheyenne, fled to Tahiti shortly after the May 16 shooting of her boyfriend, Dag Drollet, at Marlon Brando's Mulholland Drive estate.
"If we lose Christian Brando to the wind," Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven Barshop said, "everybody here is the less."
No matter how high the bail, the prosecutor said, the younger Brando, a 32-year-old Hollywood welder, "remains a flight risk."
Marlon Brando--whose appearances at his son's two-day preliminary hearing in the downtown Criminal Courts Building drew scores of paparazzi , starlets and other people--sat expressionless and with his eyes closed during most of Tuesday's hearing, occasionally talking with his younger son, Miko, or taking notes. The actor left through a back entrance without comment.
The elder Brando had been expected to testify, but when Fidler ordered--at the prosecution's request--that all prospective witnesses leave the courtroom, the film star chose to remain to lend support to his son.
Across the courtroom, Drollet's mother dabbed at her eyes and pain registered on the faces of his father and other family members who had flown in from Tahiti as a Los Angeles police firearms expert decribed the face wound that killed the 26-year-old man. They declined comment afterward.
The expert, Officer David Butler, testified that Drollet was shot at such close range that microscopic particles of human tissue were left on the muzzle of the .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol.
"This is not a struggle," prosecutor Barshop told the court. "This is nothing but a murder. . . . The evidence is grossly inconsistent with a struggle, with a wrestling match or anything like that."
He noted that the victim was killed as he sat with a comforter still draped across his legs, a cigarette lighter in one hand and a TV remote control in the other.
Barshop quoted Brando as having volunteered to police that, "I shot him, man, but not on purpose. It was an accident. The gun was under the couch. I kept it there . . . .
"I told him, 'You leave my sister alone.' I grabbed him and told him to get the (expletive) out . . .
"We were both in a fit or rage; the gun went off."
Drollet's mother covered her face with her hands at hearing the description of her son's last moments.
Although Brando asserted that "I wouldn't do it (shoot someone) in my father's house," at another point in his rambling narrative, he commented, "Man, death is too good for the guy. He was beating my pregnant sister."
Shapiro asked Fidler to reduce the charge to manslaughter, arguing that his client had been drinking and was upset at learning that Drollet had been physically abusive to his sister, who was seven months pregnant with Drollet's child.
"Profanities were exchanged and the gun discharged. . . . This is a case of, at best, manslaughter; of provocation. . . . There is nothing in the evidence, direct or circumstantial, that Christian had any malice in his heart," and thus does not qualify as murder, he said.
In ordering Brando to go to trial, however, Fidler said the district attorney's evidence supports the "strong suspicion" required at the preliminary hearing level that Drollet's death was indeed murder.
Prosecutors face an uphill battle in proving first-degree murder, however. Tapes of a detailed statement given by Brando to a police detective were ruled inadmissible Monday, because he was not properly read his Miranda rights. And on Tuesday, Fidler ruled that a statement given by Cheyenne Brando--in which she allegedly said she considered her boyfriend's death to be murder, not an accident--is also inadmissible.