Monday, May 20, 2024

Michael Jackson Prosecutor Tom Sneddon, 73, Dies; Pursued the Singer on a Vendetta


There isn’t much nice I can say about Tom Sneddon, the former Santa Barbara District Attorney. He is dead at age 73. You’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead. But this is what I know: Sneddon conducted a vendetta against Michael Jackson that went on for years. He bungled the 1993 investigation with Jordan Chandler. And then in 2005 Sneddon — with no real evidence– brought Jackson to trial and destroyed him. The child molestation case was almost completely fabricated, with Sneddon at its forefront. It almost certainly led to Jackson’s death.

I watched Tom Sneddon in court through the winter and spring of 2005. He was about as unsophisticated as he could be in upscale Santa Barbara. It’s hard to believe a guy who seemed like such a hick could be popular with wealthy constituents. His pursuit of Michael Jackson was ridiculous, and you could say bordered on racist. It was clear he wanted Jackson out of Santa Ynez, Los Olivos and the whole area. Let’s not forget: Sneddon threw a victory party at a local restaurant during jury deliberations. He was convinced he’d won. It was in the poorest taste, and he was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Early on, Sneddon knew that the Arvizo family was nutty. Not only that, there was ample evidence they were lying about a lot of things starting with their “kidnapping” by Jackson. If yours truly had seen the humungous pile of receipts rung up by the Arvizo’s during their “incarceration,” certainly Sneddon knew about them, too. I certainly reported enough stories at the time detailing the Arvizos’ activities– shopping, restaurants, vacations, spa treatments– that a D.A. with a legitimate brief would have questioned the veracity of his government witnesses.

But Sneddon was out to get Michael Jackson. He’d lost out in 1993 when Jackson paid off Chandler. He wasn’t thrilled that Jackson had needled him in songs on subsequent albums. When Sneddon turned up at Neverland in November 2003 with bottom feeding tabloid reporter Diane Dimond for the big search and arrest, he showed his cards. It was a grudge match return.

That Tom Mesereau, Jackson’s defense lawyer, made such mincemeat of that prosecutors’ office should tell us everything. Sneddon did a lot of smirking in that trial. He really thought he was sending Michael Jackson to prison. He certainly humiliated the pop star. But then his case fell apart: Janet Arvizo, revealed as a welfare cheat, told Tom Mesereau she thought Jackson was going to take her kids away in a big helium balloon. She and her kids all had different stories. No one could explain how Arvizo was getting bikini waxes while Sneddon insisted she’d been taken against her will.

Jackson left Los Olivos two weeks after the trial was over. Mesereau had advised him to go. Sneddon, he said, would never give up. He’d make Jackson’s life a living hell. So I’m sorry Tom Sneddon is dead, and certainly it’s a terrible loss for his family. Maybe he was a wonderful father and husband. But his overzealousness to get even with Michael Jackson caused a lot of damage. The fact is, and people don’t like this, Michael Jackson was innocent of those charges. They should never have been brought.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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