Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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A Jackson’s Accidental Drowning Becomes a Homicide
By Scot Macdonald
Published June 17, 2021

A roll of police tape (police line) lies on the ground outside a home being foreclosed on in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2009.

Even though Donald J. Bohana has served more than 20 years of a 15-years-to-life sentence for the murder of Delores “Dee Dee” Jackson, ex-wife of Tito Jackson, the case against him is tainted by political pressure and rife with irregularities and reasonable doubt.

The Accident

“It was very, very hot, unusually hot in L.A. at the time,” Bohana later told ABC News’s 20/20 about the night of August 26, 1994, which he spent with Dee Dee, whom he had been dating for eight weeks. “We’d go out, sit by the pool, have a couple of drinks … it’s very romantic.”

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After they spent time in the hot tub, Bohana said Dee Dee swam back and forth in the pool. Then he noticed that she appeared to be in trouble in the 15-foot deep end of the pool.

“I jumped in, put my arms around her and then flipped her out of the pool,” Bohana said.

At about 3:30 a.m. Bohana called 911. Paramedics arrived and found Dee Dee Jackson dead.

A November 7, 1994 autopsy found that Dee Dee’s blood alcohol level (.23) was three times the legal limit for driving. Bohana was also drunk that night. After investigating the incident, the police and district attorney concluded it was an accidental drowning.

At the time of Dee Dee’s death, Don Bohana was a 59-year-old divorcee. He had no criminal record. He was honorably discharged from the Army and had been a teacher and then administrator of hospitals, life insurance companies, and banks. He was friends with politicians and celebrities, including Edmund Gerald “Pat” Brown, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, Kenneth and Janice Hahn, and Johnnie Cochran. Bohana and his daughter, Donna opened the first sit-down restaurant in Watts since the 1965 riots; a Denny’s.

Jacksons Want a Murder Charge

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The Jackson family did not believe Dee Dee drowned by accident and pressured the DA to charge Bohana with murder. Tito Jackson said, “Drown? What was she doing in the water? You know, ‘cause Dee Dee and I, neither of us swam.”

Bohana said he had been teaching Dee Dee to swim and she kept several swimsuits at his house. He said, “I’ll go to my grave saying that she could swim because Delores could swim.”

Dee Dee’s son, Taj, told police that his mother told him “she was trying to learn to swim and Mr. Bohana was teaching her.”

Even so, the Jackson family hired attorney Brian Oxman, who was later disbarred for lying, dishonesty and fraud. He filed a civil wrongful death suit against Bohana and pressured the DA to charge Bohana with murder. Oxman claimed Bohana had a history of domestic violence, was in financial trouble and, when Dee Dee refused to help him financially, became enraged and murdered her. The police found no evidence Bohana had any history of domestic violence, any financial difficulties or had ever asked Dee Dee for money.

The lack of evidence did not deter the Jacksons or Oxman. They continued to pressure the DA’s office to change the finding in the case. After several other prosecutors passed on the case, in 1996, Lori-Ann Jones, a new prosecutor in the LA District Attorney’s office, sent experts to re-investigate the 1994 accidental drowning of Dee Dee Jackson. The experts doubted Bohana’s account. Jones said, “When we got all of those additional reports, we took it back to the L.A. county coroner, and he changed his opinion.”

In September 1996, two years after Dee Dee’s death, Dr. David Posey changed his opinion about how she died from “undetermined” to “homicide-assisted drowning. In March 1997, the DA charged Bohana with second-degree murder. Bohana hired high-profile attorney Harland Braun and renowned pathologist Dr. Michael Baden as a forensic expert.

“It was clear to me that this was a typical, innocent, accidental drowning in which two people were drinking a lot and one of them drowned,” Baden later told 20/20. “There’s no evidence of homicide.”

In October 1997, during a polygraph test, Bohana said Dee Dee drowned by accident and scored a 99.99 NDI (no deception indicated) score.

The Trial

In June 1998, Bohana’s three-week trial began. Braun did not call a single expert witness. Braun later told 20/20 that Dr. Baden would have been “a weak witness,” which seems incredible, given Dr. Baden’s decades of experience as a New York medical examiner. Dr. Baden was also the chief forensic pathologist chosen by Congress to investigate the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and the death of Medgar Evers. The jury convicted Bohana of second-degree murder and sentenced him to 15 years-to-life. More than 20 years later, Bohana is still furious at Braun and said, “He just screwed me all the way.”

In a move that raised serious questions about Braun’s defense, after the Bohana trial, the Jackson family retained Braun as an attorney. The state bar is now investigating Braun’s conduct during the trial and his later retention by the Jackson family.

A Daughter’s Crusade

After the verdict, Donna Bohana discovered that even as prosecutors were relying on Dr. Posey to help convict her father, another L.A. prosecutor called him a “fraud.” A widely respected veteran prosecutor, Stephen Kay investigated Posey’s background before testifying as a private consultant in another murder trial. Posey was a hospital pathologist with limited experience in criminal cases, who had worked part-time for the LA County Coroner’s office for just 29 days. Kay said, “He just dabbled in autopsies.”

Donna discovered that when Posey filed for bankruptcy, he committed perjury by filing false schedules. The day before Posey testified in the Bohana case, Posey’s bankruptcy discharge was filed. His home mysteriously had been saved. Further raising doubts about his objectivity, after the criminal trial, the Jackson family hired Posey as a paid expert in their civil wrongful death suit against Bohana. The DA’s office also paid Posey for his testimony in the Bohana case, which demonstrated that he was not on the coroner’s office staff.

Since 2007, Bohana has been denied parole four times, because he maintains his innocence and will not to admit to doing a crime. The Jackie Lacey-led DA office’s Conviction Review Unit, headed by Robert Grace, first said the DA would not oppose Bohana’s release and then did so at Bohana’s most recent March 28, 2019 hearing.

Until his murder conviction, Bohana had no criminal record. His past only included honorable service in the Army and success in all aspects of his life both professional and personal. He was an educator and successful businessman, holding key positions at local hospitals and appointments to various city boards and commissions.

Harland Braun is now under investigation by the California State Bar, 20/20 profiled Bohana on September 17, 2017, casting substantial doubt on his conviction, and a website, donaldjbohana.com, is dedicated to his release. Even so, the newest District Attorney, George Gascon, appears to still support such a questionable case and refuses to even review the case through his Conviction Integrity Unit. Don Bohana is still languishing in prison at the Men’s Colony West facility in San Luis Obispo. At 82 and having suffered a recent stroke and battle against COVID-19, Donna Bohana may not have much time left to secure her father’s release.

 

 

  1. Scot Macdonald is the author of Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders, Saucy Jack: Alias Jack the Ripper and five novels. He was educated at the University of British Columbia, University of Nevada, Reno, and the University of Southern California.
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