Tom Sneddon, the former district attorney who sought twice to try Michael Jackson on child molestation charges, has died.
Sneddon died Saturday at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital after a battle against cancer, Patrick McKinley, a retired assistant district attorney for Santa Barbara County who worked with Sneddon for more than three decades, said Sunday. Sneddon was 73.
“Our family and community has lost one of its heroes,” Sneddon’s family said in a statement, adding that they “all loved his straightforward and genuine personality.” They said he was a “‘what-you-see-is what-you get’ kind of person.”
News of Sneddon’s death was first reported by the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Sneddon investigated Michael Jackson on child sexual abuse allegations in 1993 and again a decade later. The first case fell apart after a young boy’s family accepted a multimillion dollar settlement from Jackson and declined to testify against him.
The probe closed with no charges. Jackson shot back in a thinly disguised swipe at the prosecutor in a song called “D.S.” on the “HIStory” album. The song contains the lyrics, “Dom Sheldon is a cold man.”
A second set of allegations against Jackson made by a young cancer survivor resulted in a televised trial in 2005 which ended with Jackson being acquitted.
Jackson’s defense attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr., painted Sneddon as an overzealous prosecutor who had a “personal vendetta” against Jackson after the first case fell apart.
Sneddon continued to insist that he believed Jackson could be a danger to children and said he would have considered a conviction tragic, considering Jackson’s accomplishments.
“If he had been convicted I think that part of it would have been a tragedy — 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,” he told The Associated Press in an interview after the verdict.
Sneddon retired in 2006.
The son of a baker, he grew up in Lynwood, California, and served his country during the Vietnam War before pursuing a career in law, according to a statement by Sneddon’s family.
He worked on the 1969 oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel — at the time the largest oil spill on U.S. waters. The landmark case helped spur several state and federal environmental protection laws, his family said. They also noted his “relentless” pursuit of two Israeli men hired to murder a Santa Barbara couple. An Israeli law forbids extradition of its citizens, so he found a way to try the men in Israel. The case marked the first time Israeli citizens have stood trial in their country for crimes committed in the United States.
“He was deeply compassionate toward victims, and fundamentally changed how victims were treated during the judicial process, initiating new protocols to lessen their trauma,” the statement said.
McKinley called Sneddon “a helluva boss.”
“He wasn’t afraid to make a decision,” McKinley said. “He would make a decision and away we’d go.”
Sneddon is survived by his wife of 47 years, Pamela, and their nine children.