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The D.A. vs. the pop superstar

Relationship between Sneddon, Jackson has be acrimonious, public

The bad blood between Michael Jackson and the prosecutor who filed child molestation charges against him goes back more than a decade. It even spawned a song in which the pop star calls Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon a “cold man.”

TEN YEARS AGO, Sneddon tried to build a child-molestatation case against Jackson. But it fell apart when the singer’s accuser reportedly accepted a multimillion-dollar civil settlement and refused to testify in any criminal case.

Sneddon “believed Jackson to be guilty of the first offense, and given Tom’s personality, he would not let go of that,” retired Superior Court Judge James Slater, who handled portions of the 1993 case, said Thursday. “He would certainly be thinking back on the last time when Mr. Jackson walked away from the judge.”

On Wednesday, Sneddon said a new law that allows prosecutors to halt civil suits during related criminal cases should prevent a replay of the 1993 scenario. “I think there’s a sense in the public that he did” buy his way out of that investigation, the district attorney said.

Some observers said Sneddon, a former boxer at Notre Dame who earned the nickname “Mad Dog” for his tenacious courtroom demeanor, had waited a long time for another shot at Jackson.

Sneddon, however, rejected suggestions that he had a vendetta against Jackson or timed the arrest to coincide with the release of Jackson’s latest album, a greatest-hits collection.

“I can tell you it’s B.S., but that isn’t going to change people’s observations,” Sneddon said. Sarcastically, he said: “Like the sheriff and I are really into that kind of music.”

When that 1993 case “went to bed ... it went out of my mind. I haven’t given it a passing thought,” Sneddon said.

Still, some observers said Sneddon, a prosecutor for 34 years and D.A. for nearly 21 of those, appeared to be grandstanding at the news conference and seemed to take delight in announcing a warrant for Jackson’s arrest had been issued.


Sneddon joked with a roomful of reporters, at one point saying drawing chuckles when he welcomed them to Santa Barbara with the line, “I hope that you all stay long and spend lots of money because we need your sales tax to support our offices.”

“It was baffling, perplexing and it didn’t have a particularly serious tone,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola University Law School. “A good defense lawyer is going to say he was too personally invested and you can’t trust the investigation.”

During the earlier investigation, Sneddon ordered photographs taken of Jackson’s genitalia. At the time, Sneddon told Vanity Fair the photos matched descriptions of Jackson’s genitalia given by boys to investigators.

The ordeal was the inspiration of a 1995 song titled “D.S.” that Jackson included on his “HIStory” album. The song is widely believed to refer to the district attorney, and contains these lines: “They wanna get my ass / Dead or alive / You know he really tried to take me / Down by surprise / I bet he missioned with the CIA / He don’t do half what he say.”

The liner notes say Jackson sings “Dom Sheldon” is “a cold man.” But listeners say Jackson clearly sings “Tom Sneddon” and “Thomas Sneddon.”

In a February 2003 profile, the National District Attorneys Association called Sneddon “the only D.A. in the nation to have an angry song written about him by pop megastar Michael Jackson.”

Sneddon, who is in his early 60s, graduated from UCLA Law School in 1966 and then served in the Army for two years. He has been a prosecutor for his entire law career since then.

Those who have worked with Sneddon say he is tenacious and tough, particularly when he has made up his mind about a case — sometimes to a fault.

“There were times, and there still are, that his tenaciousness gets in the way of his better judgment and he has to step back. That’s maybe more difficult for Tom than other people,” Slater said. “He can be a pretty tough article.”

© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.