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Tom Sneddon, the former district attorney who twice sought to try Michael Jackson on child molestation charges and was disparaged in one of the pop star’s songs, has died.
Sneddon died Saturday at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital after a battle with cancer, said Patrick McKinley, a retired assistant district attorney for Santa Barbara County. Sneddon was 73.
“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. He was just a hell of a boss,” said McKinley, who worked with Sneddon for more than three decades.
“He wasn’t afraid to make a decision,” he said. “He would make a decision, and away we’d go.”
McKinley said he learned of Sneddon’s death from Sneddon’s wife.
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.
Joyce Dudley, Santa Barbara County’s current district attorney, said Sneddon’s expectations of his prosecutors were always clear.
“Be the most prepared person in the courtroom, work smart, work hard, step right up to the line but never over it,” she said.
Sneddon is survived by his wife and nine children, McKinley said.
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