Tom Sneddon, former district attorney and Michael Jackson prosecutor, has died at 73. Although Sneddon made two attempts to convict the pop star on child molestation charges and was even mocked in one of his songs, he stated that Jackson’s potential guilt would be “a tragedy.”
Sneddon was battling cancer, and passed away at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital on Saturday. Patrick McKinley, a retired assistant district attorney for Santa Barbara County who worked with Sneddon for over three decades, learned of his death from Sneddon’s wife.
“I don’t think you will find a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office who worked for him who has one bad thing to say about him,” said McKinley. “He was just a helluva boss. He wasn’t afraid to make a decision. He would make a decision and away we’d go.”
The prosecutor investigated Michael Jackson on child sexual abuse allegations twice in his career. His first attempt in 1993 fell apart when the family of the young boy in question accepted a multimillion-dollar settlement from Jackson. They declined to testify against him, and the case was closed with no charges.
On Jackson’s 1995 album, HIStory, he responded to Sneddon’s efforts with a thinly-veiled bash on a song called “D.S.” The lyrics described a fictional character with a similar name, stating, “Dom Sheldon is a cold man.”
After the first case caved in, Sneddon expressed that a guilty outcome for Jackson would actually be heartrending. “If he had been convicted I think that part of it would have been a tragedy,” he said. “Like a Greek tragedy play of a person who obviously can bring great joy and entertainment to the people around the world, (who was) obviously a great entertainer at one point in his career, (who) could end up this way for whatever reason.”
Despite his sentiments, the prosecutor was cast in a negative light and accused of having a “personal vendetta” against the star by Jackson’s defense attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr. However, Sneddon was still concerned that Jackson could be a danger to children and continued to press on.
The conflict was rehashed in 2005, when a young cancer survivor brought a second set of allegations to light. Sneddon returned to prosecute Jackson in the televised trial, and Jackson was acquitted. Sneddon retired in 2006.
Sneddon is survived by his wife and nine children. In a statement regarding his passing, his family described him as a “‘what-you-see-is what-you get’ kind of person,” who was loved for his “straightforward and genuine personality.”