Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Christian Brando — A Hollywood Family Tragedy

Sentencing Hearing

Over the next three months, prosecutors continued to build their case for the maximum 16-year sentence for Christian, who remained free on bail. For his part, Christian began to try to put his life back together, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and working as a welder. He began taking responsibility for his actions and had come to terms with his fate.

"I did plead guilty to a manslaughter," he told the Los Angeles Times. "It's a tragedy and I do feel bad. If I could give my life to have him come back, I would do it, but there's nothing I can do.

"But are people going to spit on me all the time?" he asked rhetorically. "Can't I just go to jail? Is that OK?"

Then in March it was time for the hearing, which lawyers expected would last three days at least.

First up were the dueling psychological reports, with the prosecution painting Christian as a violence-prone dropout and threat to society. Citing an "ever-escalating pattern of violence," they used the divorce proceedings with Mary McKenna to show that Christian had threatened her with a gun, ("It was a little toy, a plastic gun left by a child I was babysitting," Mary countered) and was physically abusive.

"I was angry with Christian at the time," McKenna said. "There are, I guess, some exaggerations... I was just trying to teach him a lesson. He was acting like a brat."

Defense analysts described Christian as chronically depressed with somewhat diminished capacity due to drug abuse.

"He is a tempestuous kid from a tempestuous family, frustrated and angry about his life," said his psychiatrist, Dr. Saul Faerstein. "There is not a particle of antisocial attitudes and behavior which threatens society."

Faerstein blamed Christian's parents. "Neither of them provided a stable, protective, safe emotional environment for Christian to grow up in."

The courtroom was packed during the second day of the hearing when Marlon Brando took the stand to defend his son.

Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando

In a scene reminiscent of a similar non-trial event some 30 years before, when Lana Turner took the stand in a coroner's inquest to share intimate details of her life in an effort to save her daughter Cheryl from homicide charges, Marlon Brando gave an emotional performance. Like Turner's testimony, depending on which side the observer was on, Brando gave either a pitiful plea for mercy by a loving, but inept father, or was a master actor practicing his craft in the role of a lifetime.

For several hours under gentle questioning by Robert Shapiro, the elder Brando testified about how he failed his children. He sobbed, yelled and ran through every possible emotion during his lengthy testimony, sometimes giving rambling, almost incoherent answers to simple questions. Brando took some responsibility for Christian's upbringing, but placed much of the blame on Anna Kashfi, who was not present.

"She was probably the most beautiful woman I've ever known, but she came close to being as negative person as I have met in my life," Brando said. Then he began to look inward.

"I led a wasted life," he said, emotionally. "I chased a lot of women.

"Perhaps I failed as a father," he added. "The tendency is always to blame the other person. There were things I could have done differently, I did the best I could."

Then he grew angry at the packed courtroom, swinging his arm wildly about as he said "this is the MARLON Brando case. If Christian were black, Mexican or poor, he wouldn't be in this courtroom. Everyone wants a piece of the pie."

Finally, Marlon turned to Dag Drollet's family, including his five-year-old daughter, who was present in the courtroom. In French, he apologized to them.

"Je ne peux pas continuer la haine dans vos yeux. Je suis désolé avec mon coeur entier." ("I cannot continue with the hate in your eyes. I'm sorry with my whole heart.")

Then, his testimony over, Marlon Brando returned to his reclusive self and slipped out a back entrance, avoiding reporters.

The next day it was Christian's turn. Standing, head bowed, he made the standard defendant's plea of "If I could change places, I would."

Then, showing the emotional maturity and personal growth that nine months of sobriety had brought, he apologized to Dag's family and said simply, "I'm prepared for the consequences."

Finally, it was up to the judge. On the one hand, prosecutors wanted the full 16-year term for Christian, while the defense, of course, wanted as little time as possible. Judge Robert Thomas split the difference and gave Christian a ten-year sentence. Under the sentencing laws then in place, given time off for good behavior plus the time he had already served, Christian could have been released to a halfway house in as soon as four years.

"The only thing everyone can agree on is that this was a tragic situation for everyone it touched," Thomas said in handing down his sentence. 

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