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Prominent Entertainment Attorney Kills Children, Self

Slayings: Police find three bodies inside home. Shootings followed marital problems, wife's threat to leave him, friends and officials say.

February 24, 1997|DUKE HELFAND and HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A prominent entertainment lawyer shot and killed his two 18-month-old twin children and then shot himself to death early Sunday morning at his home in a secluded, affluent Los Angeles neighborhood after a heated argument with his wife, according to police.

William J. Billick III, general counsel of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, killed his twins, Alexandra and Daniel, after his wife, Jacqueline Brand, threatened to leave with the children, according to Los Angeles police officers.

Police had gone to the house, which is near Coldwater Canyon and Mulholland Drive, about 4 a.m. after Brand called them from a neighbor's home. Brand, 35 and a violinist with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, told police that her 53-year-old husband had chased her out of the house brandishing a pistol.

Shortly after their arrival, officers heard several shots about 4:25 a.m. A SWAT team and crisis negotiators were called in soon afterward, but no officers entered the sprawling ranch house until 7:30 a.m. after they tried to contact Billick by telephone and over a bullhorn.

The police found three bodies in the master bedroom, said Det. Ron Phillips, who heads the homicide unit at the LAPD's West Los Angeles Division.

Asked why the officers had not entered the house sooner, Lt. Anthony Alba said: "It's always a difficult call. Your desire is to get in there and see what happened. But we need to exercise restraint in situations like that. We have found that in these situations [where an armed suspect is thought to be holding hostages] it is better to use time as an ally rather than rushing in and putting people in harm." Several friends said the couple, who had been married about four years, had had a troubled relationship for a while, and police said that a divorce was pending. In September 1995, LAPD officers had gone to the house because of a domestic violence incident that resulted in Billick's arrest, but the case was dropped after Brand decided not to press charges, said LAPD Officer Eduardo Funes.

"They were living in the same house for the sake of the kids, I thought on pretty good terms," said Rachel Robinson, a close friend of Brand who also is a violinist with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Robinson had gone to pick up Brand for violin practice after being unable to reach her by telephone Sunday morning.

"He [Billick] had a quiet kind of anger, but never anything like this. He loved the kids. They were having a little bit of trouble; they were trying to work it out for the kids," said Robinson, who added that the children were going to be ring bearers at her wedding in May.

A graduate of Harvard College and Stanford Law School, Billick joined the Motion Picture Assn. of America as general counsel in 1993 after working at two prominent Westside law firms where he specialized in entertainment practice. The association is the major film industry organization headed by Jack Valenti, the former White House aide to President Lyndon Johnson. Valenti could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Several of Billick's neighbors in the area just north of Trousdale Estates were awakened by the sound of police helicopters. They expressed horror at the slayings.

"I can't even imagine killing a child," said Renee Rousselot, who has an 18-month-old daughter. "It's unfathomable to me. Obviously, he must have been under a lot of stress," said Rousselot, though she like several other neighbors said she had never met Billick and was not even aware that there were two small children living in the house.

"It's more than a shock," said another nearby resident who declined to give her name. "People live in this neighborhood to insulate themselves from this kind of thing."

The area is a secluded enclave, reached by narrow canyon roads. Billick and his wife and children lived in a four-bedroom, four-bath ranch house, with swimming pool, encircled by eucalyptus and pine trees. The house is hidden behind a high stucco wall and a security gate. Parked in the driveway Sunday was a new white BMW with two car seats in the back. A for-sale sign was posted outside the house.

Whatever stress Billick was under at home, associates said they noticed no sign of it Friday when Billick spent the day with them at an American Bar Assn. seminar at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey.

"I had lunch with him; he seemed fine," said Sheldon Presser, Warner Bros. senior vice president and deputy general counsel. "We were supposed to have breakfast on Tuesday. He was a very, very nice human being--smart, hard-working, always pleasant, always thoughtful. There was no sign of temper I could see--certainly not with the outside world."

Similar sentiments were expressed by Ronald Olson, a prominent Los Angeles lawyer, who met Billick when both did legal work for entertainment giant MCA. "He was a terrific attorney and a terrific person. I never saw him flash a temper," Olson said.

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