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Violence by Brando Disputed : Court: His ex-wife and her mother contradict prosecution allegations. They tell of fights but not beatings.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Christian Brando’s ex-wife and her mother contradicted allegations by prosecutors Wednesday that either woman was ever a victim of his violence.

Mary McKenna Brando testified that she and the actor’s son frequently fought during their five-year marriage, but said he was no wife-beater.

The young woman, who took the stand in a leopard-skin coat and black mini-dress, said Brando did threaten her while they were separated and that, on her attorney’s advice, she signed a declaration to get a restraining order against him.

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“I was angry with Christian at the time,” she said. “There are, I guess, some exaggerations. . . . I was under a tremendous amount of stress. I was just trying to teach Christian a lesson. He was acting like a brat.”

In a sentencing memorandum to Santa Monica Superior Court Judge Robert Thomas last week, the district attorney’s office argued that Brando should be sent to state prison for 16 years, the maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter with the use of a gun, because his shooting of Dag Drollet, his half-sister’s Tahitian lover, was only the latest incident in “a pattern of ever-escalating violence.”

Brando, 32, had been charged with murder in the May 16 shooting, but in an agreement with the district attorney’s office, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

His ex-wife’s mother, Paola McKenna, testified that she has known Brando “since he was a little boy when he came to our yard like a deer with fear in his eyes. . . . To me, he was always very behaved all the time. He sometimes helped me.”

She acknowledged that her daughter’s relationship with Brando had been stormy, and the divorce even more so.

“My daughter and he, they fought like brother and sister all the time . . . and what are bonbons when you are married become stones when you get divorced.”

As for the district attorney’s contention that Brando once pointed a loaded rifle at her, McKenna laughed and said, “It was a little toy, a plastic gun” left by a child she was baby-sitting.

In other testimony, an alcoholism expert, Dr. Kurt Dubowski of the University of Oklahoma, said that he has calculated that Christian Brando’s alcohol level at the time of the shooting was at least 0.27% (more than three times the legal limit in California). A heavy drinker might still be able to drive and function at that level, he said, but his thinking, planning, judgment and reasoning abilities would be impaired.

Two pathologists, acting Los Angeles County Coroner Joseph Cogan and Dr. Michael M. Baden, former chief medical examiner for New York City, disagreed over whether the crime scene and Drollet’s body itself support Brando’s story that he and the victim struggled over the gun.

Cogan said it appears that the victim was shot from “extremely close range,” while lying down watching TV and ready to go to sleep.

Baden said gunshot residue tests suggest that the victim’s hands were near or on top of the weapon and that the fatal wound indicates the gun was moving, as it would in a struggle. He also said the path of the bullet shows the victim would have been seated, not lying down.

Psychiatrist Dr. Saul Faerstein testified that Brando suffers from chronic depression, substance abuse and organic brain syndrome--a combination that would have diminished his ability to form an intent to kill.

The hearing is expected to end today with testimony from actor Marlon Brando, Christian’s father, and statements by members of the victim’s family.

Prosecutors are seeking the maximum prison term of 16 years. The defense asked for leniency and a report by county probation officials recommended a three-year term plus time for using a gun.


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