The Death of Dee Dee Jackson: Accident or Murder?

When she was in high school, Delores “Dee Dee” Martes Jackson met a boy named Tito – otherwise known as Tito Jackson, a member of the famous band The Jackson 5. The young love birds got married in 1972. Many people speculated that Dee Dee would break the band apart, but that wasn’t her intention at all.

Taj Jackson, Taryll Jackson, TJ Jackson, Dee Dee Jackson, Michael Jackson / Dee Dee Jackson / Dee Dee Jackson / Taj Jackson, Taryll Jackson, TJ Jackson.
Source: Getty Images

In fact, she made a point to build real and sincere relationships with all the brothers. She wasn’t into fame or fortune and wanted to be a mother. Soon enough, the couple had three children: Taj Jackson, Taryll Jackson, and TJ Jackson. While her husband was playing concerts, Dee Dee dedicated all her time and attention to the children.

A Civil Divorce

Unfortunately, the high school sweethearts didn’t last forever. It seemed as though Dee Dee wasn’t as interested in fame as Tito was, and it just didn’t work out. After over 15 years of marriage, the pair called it quits in 1988. But they remained close friends.

A wedding portrait of Dee Dee and Tito Jackson.
Source: Pinterest

Dee Dee was known to be a dedicated mother and wanted to give her children the best life. When the kids grew up and inevitably found their talent and interest in music, they created a band called 3T and went on the road to fame. They were excited to follow in their dad and uncles’ footsteps and perform. Everything seemed to be going great for the family until it all came crumbling down.

Dee Dee’s New Man

In the early 1990s, Dee Dee started dating a man named Don Bohana. Bohana was a rich executive who had connections in the government, military, financial industry, and more. He was more than two decades older than Dee Dee, but that didn’t stop her from falling in love with Don.

A portrait of Ray Charles and Don Bohana.
Source: ABC News

Just like she wanted to create a bond with the Jacksons, Dee Dee also strived to build relationships with Don’s daughters, Donna and Maria. She was even helping Donna plan her extravagant upcoming wedding. Dee Dee and Don enjoyed spending their evenings by the pool, enjoying dinner, music, and of course, a few drinks. They seemed to really enjoy each other’s company.

An Ordinary Evening

It started off as a normal summer evening. Dee Dee and Don were hanging out, as usual, enjoying a nice dinner before moving outside to the pool for drinks. The ordinary date night started off strong until police got a call from Don Bohana.

A picture of Don and Dee Dee celebrating at home.
Source: ABC News

At 3:30 a.m., Don called 911, saying that “someone” fell into the pool and was drowning. The paramedics rushed to the scene, where they found Dee Dee by the pool. Both of them were naked and extremely intoxicated. Naturally, the police questioned Don about the events of that evening.

It’s Very Romantic

“We went out to sit by the pool and have a couple of drinks. Sometimes, have a cigarette. It’s very, you know, romantic. We ended up going into the jacuzzi, and she swam over to the light. Then I noticed she wasn’t moving. So, I jumped in, put my arms around her, and then flipped her out of the pool. At that time, I started doing CPR on her. I couldn’t believe it; she just went numb,” Don claimed.

A roll of police tape ties on the ground outside the home.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

I know what you are thinking; there is something fishy about that story. Medics rushed Dee Dee to the hospital, where she sadly passed away.

The Funeral Service

Because of her connection to the famous Jackson family, Dee Dee’s death was worldwide news. There were so many speculations, rumors, and opinions flying around. But the grieving family didn’t want to deal with it. They were preoccupied mourning their beloved Dee Dee.

A still from the media reporting Dee Dee’s death.
Source: YouTube

Dee Dee’s funeral was already getting attention, so in order to avoid more media scrutiny, famous members of the Jackson family, including Michael Jackson, chose not to attend the service. Instead, Michael took his nephews away to help them cope with their devastating loss.

Double Booked!

Remember how Dee Dee was helping Don’s daughter plan her wedding? Well, it was scheduled for the same day as the funeral. Due to the circumstances, she couldn’t have her dream wedding. But Donna still decided to go through with the wedding because, according to her, that’s what Dee Dee would have wanted.

A portrait of Dee Dee.
Source: ABC News

So, Donna had a more intimate wedding, with just her close friends and family. As a result, nobody from Don’s family attended Dee Dee’s funeral. This is a pretty big red flag if you ask me. She died in Don’s pool on his watch. If anyone should have been there, it’s the boyfriend who claimed to love her.

Let the Investigation Begin

The death of Dee Dee Jackson shocked the nation. And her family, of course, was completely heartbroken. They loved her so much and couldn’t even grasp the fact that she had died in such a tragic accident. They felt that there had to be more to the story.

Dee Dee’s sons speak during an interview.
Source: ABC News

The investigation began with L.A. Sherriff’s office detective, Bob Snapper, leading it. Snapper’s first stop was where the accident took place, at Don Bohana’s home. He found evidence that the couple was seriously drunk. Later, during his interview, Don gave investigators more details, despite being wasted.

She Was Swimming in the Jacuzzi

He explained that Dee Dee was swimming in the jacuzzi while he was sitting by the pool on the other side. He then claimed that Dee Dee swam towards him, did an Olympic-style flip, and then swam back to the other side towards the pool. When Don got up, he noticed that Dee Dee was lying face-down in the water, not moving.

A portrait of Don Bohana.
Source: ABC News

That’s when he realized something wasn’t right and swam to her. He also said that she resisted when he tried to pull her out of the pool.

Something Was Wrong

Eventually, Don managed to get her to the edge of the pool and flip her. That’s when she became motionless. One of the strangest parts of the interview was Don’s emotion. Sure, people grieve in different ways, but he showed no signs of pain.

A picture of the crime scene.
Source: ABC News

Police noted that he was very disconnected and spoke as if he was telling someone else’s story. While police thought Don’s narration of the events was strange, they had nothing on him. So, when they planned to rule Dee Dee’s drowning accidental, things got even stranger.

First Red Flag

The first question that came to Dee Dee’s loved one’s mind was: what the heck was she doing in the pool? Even Tito claimed that Dee Dee didn’t know how to swim and was terrified of water. She would never have gone into the pool willingly.

Tito Jackson speaks during an interview.
Source: ABC News

This made Don’s statement about Dee Dee doing “Olympic-style flips” sound suspicious. The family said his claims were “absurd.” I’m no expert, but I’ve been swimming since I was two, and I don’t even know how to do Olympic-style flips. Needless to say, nobody believed Don’s story.

Dee Dee Can’t Swim

Once the holes in his story came out, Don had ways of defending his version of events. He explained that he actually taught Dee Dee how to swim. Strangely, Dee Dee didn’t tell anyone close to her about her new hobby.

Dee Dee’s son holds a dated picture of his mother.
Source: ABC News

However, Don’s daughter Donna backed her father up, saying she saw Dee Dee wearing bathing suits around the house. But as you can imagine, the conflicting stories created a dispute between the two families. While the Bohanas maintained it was just an accident, Dee Dee’s family believed it was a murder.

Second Red Flag

Dee Dee’s autopsy was performed by Dr. David Posey. They released a report on November 7, 1994, and it brought up some shocking revelations. The level of alcohol in Dee Dee’s system was three times more than the legal limit. Her body had over 50 cuts and bruises. The report claimed that these injuries were due to blunt force trauma that was not accidental.

A photo of alcohol bottles by the swimming pool.
Source: ABC News

The autopsy report also stated that Dee Dee’s drowning was assisted, noting that foul play may have been involved. Nevertheless, the official cause of death was listed as “undetermined.” As you can imagine, the Jackson children were deranged by these new findings, pushing the police to file charges against Don Bohana.

Explaining the Bruises Away

But Don had no explanation. He couldn’t argue with the autopsy report. He just said that the struggle to get Dee Dee out of the pool had caused the cuts and bruises. Additionally, Dee Dee had a liver disease which could have contributed to some extensive bruising.

A picture of Michael Jackson, Dee Dee, and her three sons.
Source: YouTube

Even though it still didn’t explain Dee Dee’s 58 cuts, since both of them were heavily drunk, many people assumed that the rescue could have been clumsy. But the Jackson family wasn’t convinced by that argument. They thought it was just an excuse to get away with murder.

Big Accusations

The District Attorney’s office hesitated to file charges against Don Bohana, so the Jacksons switched to a wrongful death suit. In August 1995, one year after Dee Dee’s death, the Jacksons’ attorney Mr. Brian Oxman sued Don.

A still of Mr. Brian Oxman talking to the media.
Source: YouTube

Oxman explained that Don Bohana was in deep financial trouble and dated Dee Dee for her status and money. However, when Dee Dee refused to give him the money, he got mad and killed her. Oxman also accused Don Bohana of having a history of violence and aggression.

They Were All Lies

But according to the lead detective working the case, Bob Snapper, most of Oxman’s allegations were false. He confirmed that the police did respond to a few noise-related complaints from neighbors, but that was pretty much it. There was nothing involving violent acts. Plus, Don wasn’t in financial trouble. He was doing well for himself and didn’t need Dee Dee’s money.

A dated portrait of Dee Dee and Don.
Source: Pinterest

It looked like Oxman was spreading rumors with no evidence to validate the narrative. The evidence presented to the prosecution in the lawsuit was ultimately deemed unfit, and the suit was dismissed. Of course, this absolutely crushed Dee Dee’s family.

Changing the Cause of Death

Throughout the years, a number of lawyers have reviewed the case and come to the conclusion that Don was innocent… except for Lori-Ann Jones. Jones and her team examined various pieces of evidence. She even went to Don’s house to inspect the pool.

An image of the crime scene.
Source: ABC News

Jones also went ahead and interviewed the pathologist assigned to the case, Dr. David Posey. Jones had several questions of his own, which led to intense discussion. By the end of their meeting, the doctor changed his original report. The cause of death was now a homicide assisted drowning.

Don Plead Not Guilty

Don cooperated with the police and took a polygraph test; he passed with flying colors. Still, in March 1997, police charged Don Bohana with second-degree murder. Don pled not guilty, and the case moved to trial. Don knew Johnnie Cochran, the infamous lawyer who got OJ Simpson off, but he couldn’t hire him as a lawyer due to a conflict of interest.

A still of Don in the courtroom.
Source: ABC News

So, Cochran recommended a friend for Don to hire, Mr. Harold Braun. Braun reviewed the case and assured Don that they would win. Don also got a leading forensic consultant, Dr. Michael Barton, to testify for him.

The Trial Begins

The prosecution built their case starting with the fact that Dee Dee hated water and didn’t know how to swim. Friends and family supported the claim. The lawyer also pointed out the 58 injuries on Dee Dee’s body. He brought in a lawyer to explain any plausible theories.

A still of Jackie Jackson speaking to the media outside the courtroom.
Source: ABC News

The pathologist who did the autopsy on Dee Dee’s body, Dr. David Posey, was a star witness for the prosecution. He claimed that Dee Dee’s death was indeed a homicide. He also noted that other experts agreed with his conclusion.

Prosecution’s Star Witness: Pathologist Dr. David Posey

However, Dr. Posey’s story fell apart during cross-examination, so he changed his account. He said that he didn’t actually consult other experts and that he accepted this theory after discussing the case with Mr. Jones. This fact heavily affected the Jacksons’ case.

Pathologists speak in the courtroom.
Source: ABC News

It looked like they weren’t going to be able to prove murder after this cross-examination. But don’t worry. It was Don’s attorney, Harold Braun, who came to their rescue. Mr. Braun didn’t call any witnesses to the stand. It seemed like a strange move from an experienced defense lawyer.

Don’s Attorney Saved the Jacksons

Mr. Braun didn’t even bring a possible alternative story to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The only thing he did was try and quash the prosecution’s theories. Even when experts were ready to testify for Don, his lawyer never called them. He referred to them as weak witnesses.

A still of Don during the trial.
Source: ABC News

If that wasn’t bad enough, Mr. Braun thought it would be a good idea to put Don Bohana on the stand with no preparation. This move brutally hurt their case. Suddenly, something felt off about the trial. It almost seemed like Braun wanted to sabotage his client.

The Guilty Verdict

After three long weeks of trial, the jury ruled Don Bohana guilty. He was convicted of the second-degree murder of Dee Dee Jackson and was sentenced to 15 years to life behind bars. The Jackson family was thrilled and relieved. They felt like justice was served.

An image from an empty courtroom.
Source: ABC News

The Bohanas continue to maintain Don’s innocence. They felt like the system had wronged them. They continued fighting for Don’s vindication. But did Don’s defense team do enough to give him a fair trial?

Don Feels Betrayed by His Lawyer

It really upset Don that his defense didn’t present any evidence. He had a star witness ready to testify for him, but Mr. Braun refused to put him on the stand. In 2002, Don accused his former lawyer of ineffective counseling. Unfortunately for Don, the judge dismissed the accusation citing Braun used a reasonable strategy.

A mugshot of Don.
Source: Pinterest

Don continued to request parole. However, all his appeals were denied. Nowadays, he is over 80 years old and will likely die in jail. He is still waiting for his side of the story to be looked at fairly.

The Truth Comes Out

Over the years, several suspicious revelations about the officers involved in the Bohana-Jackson case came out. An interesting fact is that Don’s defense attorney, Mr. Braun went on to work for the Jacksons. It caused a lot of controversy about whether Braun tanked the case on purpose. His conduct is currently under investigation.

Dee Dee’s relatives cry during the trial.
Source: ABC News

Lori Ann Jones, who helped prosecute Bohana and discussed the case with Dr. Posey, was involved in a bribery case. She ended up getting an immunity deal and is no longer associated with the DA’s office.

More Concerns

But that wasn’t the end of the sketchiness. Brian Oxman, the attorney who spread misinformation about Don Bohana, was also disbarred in California. Why? For the unethical practice of law. There is also some controversy surrounding the doctor who conducted the autopsy.

A dated portrait of a young Dee Dee.
Source: Pinterest

Many believe that Dr. Posey’s credentials and work experience are questionable. Dr. Posey only worked at the coroners’ office for one month – before becoming a paid witness. The Jacksons paid him to be a witness in their first lawsuit. Posey’s financial struggles also magically disappeared right before the trial. It’s no surprise that experts doubt his legitimacy.

Not a Fair Trial

This story is all over the place. Everything, in this case, sounds off. Dee Dee deserved justice, and she barely got that. My opinions on whether or not Don murdered her don’t matter. What matters is, he didn’t get a fair trial. His lawyer really screwed him over.

A still of Don Bohana.
Source: YouTube

While Dee Dee had 58 injuries on her body, Don still deserved a fair trial like everyone else. That means guilty without reasonable doubt. In this case, there seems to be some doubt. There just wasn’t enough credible evidence to accuse Don of murder.

The Other Side of the Story

To this day, the Bohana family maintains that Don is innocent, the trial was unfair, and they were done wrong. The Jackson kids, on the other hand, believe that Don was rightly charged for their mother’s death and should stay in jail.

A portrait of Don’s daughter, Donna.
Donna Bohana. Source: YouTube

At over 80 years old, Don Bohana has served over twenty years of his 15-year to a life sentence. He also suffered a stroke and contracted COVID-19. He battles for his life and justice every day. Since Dee Dee isn’t here to tell her side of the story, we may never know the truth. However, we should look at the other side of the story.

Reasonable Doubts

What makes this case so unfair is the number of reasonable doubts. The coroner, Dr. David Posey, “just dabbled in autopsies” and had spent just 29 days working at the coroner’s office. In fact, during the trial, another L.A. prosecutor said that Posey was incompetent and should not be believed.

A shot of the house.
Source: YouTube

Posey had deep financial issues and was about to lose his home just as he changed the autopsy report from “undetermined” to “homicide-assisted drowning.” Then, his house was transferred to “Fielding Electric” and gained $300,000 in value, which allowed him to keep the house.

He Never Got Parole

Donald James Bohana was eligible for parole on July 1, 2008. His conviction for the second-degree murder of Delores “Dee Dee” Jackson is extremely questionable. But Don already served more than 20 years of his 15 to a life sentence.

A picture of Don Bohana.
Source: YouTube

He also served longer than the minimum eligible parole date. After his stroke, his right arm became immobilized, making Don a high-risk medical prisoner. In his current state of health, Don is very low risk to the public and should be on parole. However, he remains behind bars.

The Jacksons’ Influence

Unfortunately, it looks like this case is never going to be looked at with a fresh pair of eyes. Since Dee Dee’s ex-husband was Tito Jackson, her ex-brother-in-law was Michael Jackson, and her ex-sister-in-law was Janet Jackson, her relation to the famous family brought notoriety to the case, and it appears to have influenced the DA’s office.

A dated portrait of The Jackson 5.
Photo by Fotos International/Getty Images

On November 9, 2018, Bohana’s attorney, Thomas Nolan, wrote a letter to Robert Grace of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office: “Surely the Bohana prosecution was not your office’s finest work – I can just hope that the political influence of the Jackson family does not continue to corruptly influence how your office deals with these serious allegations of misconduct.”

Not Authorized

In December 2018, January 2019, and March 2019, Robert Grace of the Los Angeles DA’S office emailed Don’s attorney Thomas Nolan, saying that the DA’s office would not oppose the Petition for Commutation of Sentence of Donald J. Bohana’s sentence and his Petition for Conviction Review.

Taryll Jackson, TJ Jackson, and Taj Jackson attend an event.
Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

However, just minutes before the hearing, Barbara Turner of the DA’s office told Nolan that Robert Grace denied that he authorized Nolan to make any representations about the issue to the parole board. As if things couldn’t get sneakier.

Innocence Bars Parole

Donald J. Bohana appeared before the Board of Parole back on March 23, 2016, and was found unsuitable for release. His attorney at the time, Bruce Zucker, thinks that the reason Don was denied parole is mainly because he “steadfastly maintain[s] [his] innocence.”

Don speaks during an interview at home.
Source: ABC News

In such situations, the Court of Appeals advised, “where the prisoner has consistently and for some time maintained his or her innocence of the life offense, the party evaluating the prisoner’s suitability for release be it a psychologist, a Board of Parole Hearing panel, or the Governor, must tread more cautiously, above all, the evaluator must assiduously refrain from re-adjudicating the life offense.”

Don Feels Bad That Dee Dee Died in His Home

In re Perez, 7 Cal. App. 5th 65, 89-90 (2016), the court cited, “Indeed, such an improper use of an inmate’s claim of innocence to deny parole could lead to the anomalous result of an inmate who is, in fact, innocent never being released from prison unless he or she is willing to admit to committing the life of crime falsely.”

A portrait of Dee Dee.
Source: YouTube

Although Don Bohana maintains his innocence, he still takes moral responsibility for Dee Dee’s drowning because she died on his watch. Don also feels terrible that he was unable to save Dee Dee because he was too drunk.

More Evidence of Innocence

On September 17, 2017, ABC News’ 20/20 aired an episode called “Jackson Family Mystery, The Death of Dee Dee Jackson.” The episode showed interviews with the main participants in the case, including Jackson attorney Brian Oxman, prosecutor Lori Jones, Stephen Kay, and Bob Snapper.

A still from the episode.
Source: ABC News

They brought forth information that cast a darker cloud of doubt on Donald J. Bohana’s conviction and created a strong basis for a petition to commute Bohana’s sentence from Governor Brown and relief from District Attorney Jackie Lace’s new Conviction Review unit. However, it never happened.

Before the Murder

It’s important to look at Don Bohana as the person he was before. When he was accused, arrested, and convicted of Dee Dee Jackson’s murder, Don was a respected businessman. He worked hard and was a loving father to his two daughters.

A portrait of Don and his two daughters.
Source: YouTube

Despite rumors (started by the Jacksons’ lawyer), Don had no criminal record prior to his conviction. His past included only honorable army service and success in all aspects of his life, both personal and professional. He wasn’t known as a bad or violent man. On the contrary, people saw him and a sweet, kind, hard-working man.

Honorable Credentials

Donald J. Bohana was welcomed into the world on July 21, 1936. After graduating from Los Angeles High School, he was drafted and served in the U.S. Army mainly in Alaska for two years before transferring to the reserves in 1957.

A portrait of Don Bohana.
Source: ABC News

In 1959, Don earned a teaching credential and taught at Compton Union High School for two years. He was interested in the business administration aspect of healthcare and became the business manager at the University of Southern California’s South Central Multipurpose Health Services Center.

College Years

He attended California State University in Los Angeles, where he earned a BA in business administration. He then started a Master’s in a Public Administration program at UCLA and earned an MBA in 1979 from Pepperdine University.

A portrait of Don standing next to his private jet.
Source: ABC News

He worked his way up and became the President and CEO of California Life Insurance Company, which had charters in 32 states. He was also the founding director of a bank that grew to more than $700 million in assets. Plus, he served as the administrator/controller of Gardena Medical Center Hospital and Clinic. Needless to say, he was a very successful man.

A Rich Man

Don owned a plane, a boat, various luxury cars, and a stunning 5,000 square foot home with an inviting swimming pool. He was rubbing shoulders with politicians such as Jerry Brown Sr., Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, and Kenneth and Janice Hahn.

A picture of Don and Muhammad Ali.
Source: Pinterest

He also knew many celebrities, including Johnnie Cochran, and was an active member of his community. Don and his daughter Donna opened up a Denny’s, the first sit-down restaurant in Watts since the 1965 riots. He seemed like a loving father and successful businessman to the outside world.

Involved in His Community

Don was Chairman of the Los Angeles County Aviation Commission and Chairman of the Los Angeles County Adoption Commission. He also served on the Executive Council of the Boy Scouts of America, was a member of the Los Angeles 2000 Blue Ribbon Commission, and founded Guardian Bank.

A photo of Don during a ball dance.
Source: YouTube

For his banking job, Don’s background was investigated thoroughly by the U.S. Government to ensure that he was honest and reliable. He was approved by the Federal Reserve to operate an FDIC Bank after two days of extensive interviews at the Federal Reserve in San Francisco, and the Comptroller of the Currency approved him to the state-chartered bank.

A Loving Father?

This is what is so frustrating about this case. Don truly seems like an ordinary but successful man, incapable of murdering in cold blood. The government trusted him to handle millions of dollars in other people’s money.

A portrait of Don Bohana
Source: YouTube

If there were any red flags in Don’s background, he probably would have been caught when the government thoroughly investigated his life. But maybe he is good at hiding his tracks? Do you think Don was a good family man who was wrongfully accused? Or do you think he murdered Dee Dee Jackson that night by the pool?