In March 1997, almost three years after Michael and Janet Jackson’s ex-sister-in-law Delores “Dee Dee” Jackson drowned by accident, the District Attorney’s office charged Donald J. Bohana with second-degree murder. Bohana pleaded not guilty.
Bohana hired high-profile attorney Harland Braun for his defense and renowned pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, a former New York City chief medical examiner, as his expert forensic witness.
Dr. Baden reviewed Posey’s original autopsy report, inspected photos of Dee Dee Jackson’s bruises and inspected the pool.
“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 told 20/20. “I think there’s no evidence of homicide.”
Dr. Baden said some of the bruises on Dee Dee Jackson’s face and body were “trivial injuries, often caused by rescue attempts [and] entirely consistent with the attempts to get her out of the pool.” He said that other bruises were consistent with Dee Dee Jackson’s diseased liver. “She had a very diseased liver from drinking,” Baden said. “She’s gonna bump into things and get a bruise when others might not have.”
Even with such doubts as to whether it was murder, the trial of the People versus Donald James Bohana began in June 1998. An aquatics expert for the prosecution testified that it is more likely that a water rescuer will receive more injuries than the person being rescued. The prosecutor then said that Delores “Dee Dee” Jackson, not Donald Bohana, had bruises. Posey testified that Dee Dee Jackson’s bruises indicated that Bohana severely beat her before she drowned.
The trial lasted three weeks, but Bohana’s attorney Harland Braun did not call a single expert witness, not even Dr. Michael Baden. Braun later told 20/20 that Dr. Michael Baden would have been “a weak witness,” which seems incredible, given Dr. Baden’s decades of experience as a medical examiner in New York, including work on many high-profile cases.
Harland Braun later explained that his trial strategy was to try to damage the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses during cross-examination. He said, “It’s always better to get what you want out of a prosecution witness than your own witness.”
It was a disastrous decision.
Braun did have Donald J. Bohana testify, but Bohana did not do well on the stand.
“To be honest about the case, the worst witness was Mr. Bohana,” Braun said.
Bohana told 20/20 that he did not have any professional preparation; Braun claims he did prepare Bohana.
In November 1998, the jury convicted Donald James Bohana of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 15 years to life.
Donald Bohana is still furious at Braun’s defense, or lack thereof.
“He just screwed me all the way,” Bohana said.
Bohana suspects money was behind Braun’s decision not to call Dr. Michael Baden. During the trial, Bohana was behind in his payments to Braun. According to a sworn affidavit filed by Bohana’s brother, Braun called him the night before trial, and said, “It is not wise to have an attorney starting trial angry about nonpayment of his fee.”
Braun later told 20/20 he never said that. “I didn’t like the fact that he stiffed me,” he said. “But I wasn’t going to pull any punches on a murder case.”
Whatever the truth, the decision not to call any expert witnesses doomed Donald J. Bohana’s defense.