Effectively ending a five-month struggle by prosecutors to compel Cheyenne Brando to testify at her half-brother's murder trial, a Santa Monica Superior Court judge refused Friday to order actor Marlon Brando's daughter to return to Los Angeles from Tahiti.
In a five-page decision, Judge Joel Rudof declared Cheyenne Brando to be "mentally disabled" after two suicide attempts and five recent hospitalizations. The judge ruled after examining psychiatric reports and other documents, including a declaration from Cheyenne's mother.
Rudof wrote that prosecutors had provided him with "insufficient information to permit this court to further endanger what appears to be a fragile mental condition and attempt to have Miss Brando returned."
The ruling means that prosecutors will almost certainly have to press forward without the star witness in their case against Christian Brando, who is charged with killing Cheyenne's Tahitian lover, Dag Drollet, on the night of May 16. It may also increase the likelihood of a plea-bargain agreement.
A spokeswoman for the district attorney said her office will not challenge Rudof's decision unless Cheyenne's mental and physical condition improve dramatically before the Jan. 14 trial date--a prospect that she acknowledged is slim.
"What we are doing now is reevaluating our case against Christian Brando without the testimony of Cheyenne Brando because it does not appear at this time that she will be coming back to testify," said spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons.
As for a possible plea-bargain, Gibbons said "it would be premature to even talk about that at this point."
Defense attorney Robert Shapiro, who represents Christian Brando, could not be reached for comment. However, Shapiro has said that he believes a guilty plea to a reduced charge of manslaughter would be appropriate for his client.
With its soap opera-like twists and turns, the case against Christian Brando has riveted public attention for the last seven months. It has been heart wrenching for both families involved. "This case," Marlon Brando once declared, "is tearing everyone apart."
Christian Brando, 32, has admitted shooting Drollet in the living room of the actor's Mulholland Drive estate, but maintains that the gun went off accidentally during a struggle between the two men.
Prosecutors contend that the young Brando murdered Drollet because Cheyenne, at the time pregnant with Drollet's child, had complained that Drollet had beaten her.
In June, after telling police the shooting was not an accident, Cheyenne flew home to Tahiti, where she gave birth to a son. The 20-year-old has reportedly tried to take her life twice while in Tahiti, once by a drug overdose and once by attempting to hang herself from a tree.
Meanwhile, French authorities there filed a complaint that accused her of being an accessory in Drollet's murder.
Cheyenne spent the evening of May 16 with Christian, and is considered the only witness who could testify about his state of mind and the events leading up to Drollet's death. Prosecutors have fought vigorously to compel her return to Los Angeles, but also have said that they would drop their efforts if they became persuaded that traveling to the United States to testify would damage her physical or emotional health.