Looking back on the death of Michael Jackson's former sister-in-law
Dee Dee Jackson's son says "the pain is still there."
— -- Dee Dee Jackson drowned in a pool at the home of her boyfriend Don Bohana in August 1994, but the circumstances surrounding her death remain somewhat of a mystery. Bohana, who is currently behind bars after being convicted of murdering Jackson, has long maintained that she accidentally drowned.
By the time Bohana went to trial in June 1998, the country already had an intense thirst for high-profile criminal cases – OJ Simpson had been acquitted of double murder in October 1995 and the Menendez brothers had been convicted of murdering their parents in March 1996. Dee Dee’s connection to the Jackson family made Bohana’s trial of national interest.
Below is a timeline of some key events in the case:
1969: The Jackson 5, which was made up of the five Jackson brothers Jermaine, Michael, Jackie, Marlon and Tito, are catapulted to stardom after the group is introduced to the nation on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1969.
Tito Jackson, the second oldest of the brothers from Gary, Indiana, is known for his guitar-playing and dancing.
1972: Tito Jackson marries Delores “Dee Dee” Jackson (née Martes) in 1972, right out of high school. The couple met at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, and Dee Dee becomes part of the whirlwind of fame surrounding the Jacksons.
“She was like one of the sisters. Everyone loved her,” Tito Jackson told ABC News’ “20/20.”
1970s: Dee Dee Jackson gives birth to the couple’s first son, Taj Jackson in 1973, and later has two more sons, Taryll and TJ Jackson.
As the Jackson 5 continues its successful music career, Dee Dee focuses on raising the couple’s three sons.
“They would go on tour, so a lot of the times, it was us three and mom at home,” Taryll Jackson told “20/20.”
Late 1980s: Tito and Dee Dee Jackson separate. “It was just differences,” Tito Jackson explained of their divorce.
1989: Taj, Taryll and TJ Jackson form their own music group, 3T.Spring 1994: A friend introduces Los Angeles businessman Don Bohana, 59, to 39-year-old Dee Dee Jackson. The wealthy and successful Bohana made his fortune running hospitals and insurance companies. The two eventually start dating, with Dee Dee often spending the weekend at Bohana’s home.
Aug. 26, 1994: Dee Dee Jackson stops by Don Bohana’s home in the Ladera Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles County.
At around 11 p.m., after a late dinner, the two start their weekend ritual of drinking -- wine for Bohana, rum and coke for Dee Dee.
After talking on the phone with Bohana’s daughter Donna and his ex-wife Sheila Bohana, Bohana said Dee Dee gets into the hot tub with him.
Aug. 27, 1994: At 3:30 a.m., later that evening, Don Bohana calls 911. Bohana tells the 911 operator that Dee Dee Jackson had fallen into the pool and was drowning. The pool was approximately 15 feet at its deepest end and the shallow end was 3.5 feet deep.
Paramedics arrive to find Dee Dee out of the pool with Bohana clearly failing in his attempts to resuscitate her. The EMTs take over CPR, but she is still unresponsive. Dee Dee is rushed to a nearby hospital, where doctors pronounce her dead.
LA County sheriffs find evidence of heavy drinking around the scene, and Bohana is still drunk hours after paramedics first arrive. He tells sheriffs what he says happened and that it was an accident.
As Bob Snapper, a 26-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office told “20/20," Bohana explained that “He was doing laps in the pool, and then she came over and swam over to him. He then got out of the pool, and then all of a sudden he noticed that she was down in the deep end of the pool, and it seemed that she was in trouble.”
Snapper said Bohana claimed to have jumped into the pool to get Dee Dee, but that she fought him off. Bohana said he got out of the pool and extended a pool pole to Dee Dee, but she wouldn’t grab onto it. He said he then went back into the pool and lifted Dee Dee out of the pool up from under her arms.
Jackson family members said Bohana’s story didn’t add up because Dee Dee was terrified of the water and couldn’t swim.
Nov. 7, 1994: An autopsy report notes that Dee Dee’s blood alcohol level was more three times the legal limit for driving, and there were numerous bruises and scrapes on her face and body that the coroner Dr. David Posey describes as the result of “blunt force trauma” and appeared to be “non-accidental." The report also suggests that someone may have assisted in her drowning, but the coroner rules the manner of death as “undetermined.”
Authorities take no action against Bohana.
Aug. 25, 1995: Frustrated that the district attorney’s office has yet to prosecute the case, Dee Dee and Tito Jackson’s three sons, along with Tito’s mother Katherine, file a wrongful death suit against Don Bohana. In the civil suit filing, Jackson family attorney Brian Oxman theorizes that Bohana, who he says was financially strapped, became angry when Dee Dee rebuffed his attempts to have her give him money.
“I am sure that Dee Dee laid into him and told him precisely what she thought,” Oxman told “20/20.” “That infuriated him… he killed her out of anger, out of passion.”
Oxman also goes on a media crusade, hoping that the DA will bring criminal charges against Bohana.
A newly-assigned deputy district attorney, Lori Jones, reinvigorates the investigation. Her investigators, including water experts, are skeptical of Bohana's account as to how Dee Dee sustained her injuries.
Sept. 10, 1996: The coroner changes his conclusion on Dee Dee’s manner of death from “undetermined” to “homicide.”
Oxman told “20/20” he had provided Posey with testimony from Dee Dee’s friends that said she had no injuries before going to Bohana’s house the night she died. He also claims to have connected Posey with a new prosecutor assigned to the case, Deputy DA Lori Jones.
But Jones says she had conducted further investigation and approached Posey on her own.
“When we got all of those additional reports, we took it back to the LA county coroner and he changed his opinion,” Jones told “20/20.”
March 7, 1997: Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies arrest Bohana at his home. He is charged with second-degree murder for Dee Dee Jackson’s death.
March 12, 1997: Bohana pleads not guilty and is held on $1 million bail. He made bail, and was never incarcerated until his conviction.
As Bohana prepares for trial, he hires Harland Braun, a high-powered defense attorney who had worked on the sensational “Twilight Zone” case and would later defend the actor Robert Blake at his murder trial, and Dr. Michael Baden, a renowned forensic pathologist who has testified on dozens of high-profile cases, including OJ Simpson and the JFK and Martin Luther King assassinations.
When he looked at the Dee Dee Jackson autopsy report, as Baden told “20/20”, he saw “no evidence of homicide” and it was clear to him “that this was a typical… innocent, accidental drowning in which two people were drinking a lot and one of them drowned.”
June 12, 1998: Opening statements begin in Bohana's trial.
Over the next few weeks, Jackson family members, Dee Dee Jackson’s friends, Bohana’s ex-wife, an aquatics expert and coroner Dr. David Posey all testify for the prosecution.
The prosecution told "20/20" that there was no proof to the theory outlined in the wrongful death civil suit filed by the Jackson's that alleged Bohana was desperate for money and beat Dee Dee in a rage after she refused to bail him out.
Bohana’s defense attorney Harland Braun never calls Dr. Michael Baden and explained to "20/20" he thought Baden would be a weak witness. Braun told "20/20" that his trial strategy was to damage the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses during cross-examination.
Braun does put Bohana on the stand to testify, but now says Bohana was "the worst winess" for the defense. Bohana tells "20/20"that he does not feel properly prepared to testify, but Braun denies that.
Nov. 23, 1998: Bohana is convicted of second-degree murder for the death of Dee Dee Jackson. He receives the maximum sentence of 15 years to life. From prison, Bohana told “20/20” his deepest anger was towards his attorney, Harland Braun.
“Right after I was found guilty, I told him I never want to see his face again, because he just screwed me all the way,” Bohana said.
2002: Bohana attempts to appeal his conviction on the grounds that his attorney had bungled the case. The following year, an appeals judge rejects Bohana's claim and rules Braun’s trial strategy was “reasonable”.
Since then, Bohana has been denied parole four times, but the Jackson sons, Taj, Taryll and TJ Jackson, told “20/20” they will no longer object to Bohana’s being released.“I basically made a statement to the parole judge, ‘If you feel it’s time for him to get out, then let him out,’” TJ Jackson said.
Sept. 15, 2017: “20/20” airs interviews with Tito Jackson, his and Dee Dee Jackson’s three sons, and Don Bohana, talking about how Dee Dee’s death impacted their lives.
Today, Bohana remains in a central California prison and continues to deny killing Dee Dee. His family worries that the now 80-year-old man will die behind bars.
“Hell will freeze over before I admit I did something I didn’t do,” Bohana said. “It just pains me very much… had I not been drinking, there’s not a doubt that I would have been able to save her.”
Taj, Taryll and TJ Jackson say they are focusing their energy on simply remembering their mother, launching the Dee Dee Jackson Foundation and conducting music therapy classes across the U.S. to work through their grief.
"To this day, I'm learning how to deal with it," TJ Jackson said, "but the pain is still there."