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French Arrest Brando Sister in Drollet Case : Crime: Authorities follow Marlon Brando to daughter's hiding place. Her half-brother, Christian, was convicted of killing in Los Angeles; she is charged with complicity.

November 16, 1991|RONE TEMPEST and PENELOPE McMILLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PARIS — After covertly tracking actor Marlon Brando to a secluded, wooded estate outside Orleans, French police Friday arrested Brando's 21-year-old daughter, Cheyenne, and charged her with complicity in the shooting death of her Tahitian lover last year in Los Angeles, according to police sources and French press accounts.

Cheyenne Brando, who has twice attempted suicide since the May, 1990, killing of Dag Drollet by her half-brother Christian Brando, was under protective custody in a regional hospital in Orleans, about 70 miles south of Paris, pending her transfer next week to the French island territory of Tahiti, where the charges were issued.

However, Brando family attorney Jacques Verges, who visited Cheyenne Brando in the hospital, warned strongly against moving her from France.

"I think that the transfer of Cheyenne Brando to Tahiti would be an extremely serious act," Verges told French television. "It would constitute the crime of failing to render aid to a person in danger. In the case of suicide, it would be murder."

Marlon Brando, who unwittingly led police to his daughter's hiding place at the tree-shaded La Malvoisine estate 10 miles southwest of Orleans, accompanied her to the Orleans courthouse for the reading of charges by a French magistrate. The actor left the courthouse in a police car. One news account said Marlon Brando testified briefly at the hearing.

The arrest Friday morning near the village of Mezieres-lez-Clery was made on a warrant issued Oct. 20 by Max Gatti, an investigative magistrate from Tahiti, where relatives of the slain Drollet, a French citizen, had called for an independent investigation into Cheyenne Brando's role in the killing.

In January, Christian Brando, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the case. He was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.

Tahitian authorities last year filed a complaint against Cheyenne Brando, who was a resident of Tahiti, accusing her of being an accessory in Drollet's killing at the Brando estate in Los Angeles. Gatti has been in charge of the investigation.

Reached in Tahiti on Friday, Gatti said Cheyenne Brando was arrested for questioning. Gatti will interrogate her once she is returned to Tahiti, he said, but he would not speculate as to whether she will stand trial there.

U.S. prosecutors tried unsuccessfully last year to subpoena Cheyenne Brando to testify at Christian Brando's trial. Although no charges were filed against her in the United States, she was considered a key witness because she dined with her brother hours before the shooting and reportedly told him that Drollet, 26, had been abusing her.

Christian Brando has admitted shooting Drollet, but maintains that the gun went off accidentally during a struggle.

Police, called to the scene by the senior Brando, found Drollet in the den of the 12-room Brando home with a gunshot wound to the head. He was sprawled on a sofa with a television remote control in one hand and a lighter, rolling papers and tobacco pouch in the other.

Cheyenne returned to Tahiti shortly after the shooting, gave birth to Drollet's son a month later, then twice tried to commit suicide. She was declared mentally incompetent by French authorities.

She had been in France since January, when she entered the Villa des Pages psychiatric clinic in Le Vesinet, outside Paris, for treatment of depression. The court in Tahiti approved an application by her lawyer for the transfer but required her to return to Tahiti once she had recovered.

On Sept. 18, Cheyenne Brando disappeared from the clinic.

In early October, Gatti arrived in France to question Cheyenne about the case. When she failed to answer his request for a meeting, Gatti issued a warrant for her arrest. Under French law, which applies in Tahiti, investigative magistrates have wide-ranging authority that enables them to act as both investigators and judges.

Since Oct. 20, when Gatti issued his warrant for her arrest, police had been tracking Cheyenne Brando's whereabouts until her arrest. According to Jean Francois Moruzzi, a reporter for the Le Parisien newspaper, police found Marlon Brando living in a home west of Paris in the wealthy La Vallee de Chevreuse area. Eventually, they traced his movements to the estate near Orleans, reportedly owned by friends of the Verges, where Cheyenne Brando was hiding.

Verges is a prominent but controversial criminal attorney who is often involved in sensational cases. Among his clients was the late Gestapo chief of Lyon, Klaus Barbie, who was convicted in 1987 of crimes against humanity.

Robert Shapiro, the Century City attorney who defended Christian Brando, said, "The Los Angeles district attorney and the Los Angeles Police Department in the course of their investigation concluded Cheyenne Brando was in no way legally responsible for the death of Dag Drollet, and any prosecution by Tahitian authorities is vindictive and unwarranted."

Tempest reported from Paris and McMillan from Los Angeles.

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