What Happened To Dominique Dunne? | Part Two


(Continued from part one. As with part one, there may be some details in this post that may be distressing.)

Dominique must have felt that John had finally got the message this time because he moved out of their house and after 4 weeks of being away, she decided to get the locks changed and moved back in.

On the night of the 30th of October 1982, Dominique was in her house rehearsing a script for the V miniseries with her co-star David Packer. During the rehearsal she got a phonecall from her friend, in the middle of the conversation, John Thomas Sweeney instructed the operator to break into Dominique's conversation as it was an emergency.

Dominique's friend recalls Dominique saying ''Oh God, it's John, Let me get him off the phone'' and the line cut off. John Thomas Sweeney had just finished drinking two martinis at the Ma Maison bar and decided to walk to Dominique's house.

Dominique and David continued to rehearse when there was thumping and shouting coming from the front door. They realised it was John and Dominique told him to go away. John refused to leave unless she come out outside and talk to him for five minutes. Dominique probably thought that she'd be safe with David being in the house or maybe she was naive but she opened the door and went out to the porch to talk to him.

The conversation quickly escalated and John lunged towards Dominique, he grabbed her by the throat and dragged her from the porch, onto the driveway and into the next door neighbours driveway. The coroners report stated that he had strangled Dominique for 4 minutes and that she was brain-dead there at the scene of strangulation. John said that he tried to get Dominique to stand up and walk but she vomited and he said that he also vomited. He said that he ran back into the house, swallowed two bottles of pills and ran back outside and laid down beside her. At one point he says he reached into her mouth to pull her tongue out of her throat as he had learned to do that when his father was having epileptic fits.

No evidence was later found that John had swallowed two bottles of pills.

David told the police later that he heard them arguing and then there was the sound of choking. David panicked and rang the police. In a state of confusion he rang the wrong police number and they said that they couldn't come out because it wasn't in their jurisdiction. he then rang a friend and told them ''If If I'm found dead, John Sweeney did it.''


David ran out of the back of the house and walked towards the front driveway where he said that he saw John kneeling over Dominique. John told David to call the police (David Packer is often criticised for not coming to Dominique's aid that night, some people believe that he was terrified of John and can understand how he may have panicked, others think that he acted cowardly).

When the police arrived, John was said to have had his hands in the air shouting that he had killed his girlfriend. John was arrested and at first he was charged with attempted murder but when Dominique died, these charges were dropped and he was charged with first degree murder to which he pleaded not guilty.

Dominique was quickly rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles. At various times her heart had stopped beating and she was placed on a life support machine. She was on the life support machine for about a week as doctors tried everything including inserting a bolt into her skull to release the pressure on her brain. Her family visited her in hospital and spoke of how shocked they were at all of the tubes that surrounded her. Her neck was swollen with bruises and her hair had been shaved off because of the bolt procedure.

The doctors did various scans and determined that there was no brain activity. Her family came to the painful decision that they had to let her go. They each said their goodbyes to her and her mother told the doctors that she wanted Dominique's organs to be donated. The doctor respected their wishes and two of her kidneys were donated to two people who were in the hospital at that time. The operations took place straight away. Her heart was sent to a hospital in San Francisco. The family all agreed that this is what Dominique would have wanted, to have had her organs donated to help save someone else's life, that was just the kind of person that she was.

As I mentioned before, due to Dominique sadly passing away, John Thomas Sweeney was now charged with first degree murder.

Dominique's funeral was packed full of people who all loved her, Carrie Fisher and George Clooney were amongst the mourners.

A few nights after the funeral, the episode of Hill Street Blues in which Dominique had played an abused teenage mother, was shown on TV. Both of her parents had watched it. Unknown to them at the time, the bruises on Dominique's face were not makeup, the bruises were real. She'd been assaulted by John the day before and had filming the next day, because of the role that she was playing, the makeup department decided just to leave the bruises as they were. 

The Trial:

John Thomas Sweeney's trial began in August 1983 and would go down in history as one of the most controversial trials. By the end of it, the judge would be voted the fourth worst judge in LA, there would be protests outside of the courthouse and public outrage that is still remembered to this day. 

Having read Dominick Dunne's article in Vanity Fair (published in 1984), it became apparent that the judge was more sympathetic towards John Thomas Sweeney than he was to the Dunne family. Dominick Dunne was advised by a friend to keep a journal of everything that happened in the trial. I was shocked as I had read that during the trial, important information about John's past, including testimony from John's ex girlfriend, Dominique's mother and her friends were kept from the jury and only revealed to them after the sentencing.

John's ex girlfriend testified that he had assaulted her 10 times during their two year relationship. She had been admitted to hospital twice for six days on one occasion and four on another. John had perforated her eardrum, broke her nose, threw rocks at her and she also suffered from a collapsed lung after one of his assaults. She spoke of his outbursts and how he would smash up everything in sight, pictures, furniture etc. 

During his ex girlfriend's testimony, John became enraged and suddenly jumped up from his chair and ran towards the judge's chambers. Armed guards managed to get a hold of him and placed him back in his seat, handcuffing his hands to the arms of the chair. John started to cry, he apologised to the court and the judge accepted his apology. 

During the trial, a letter which was written by Dominique and addressed to John was read out, it said ''The whole thing has made me realise how scared I am of you and I don't just mean physically. I'm afraid of the next time you are going to have another mood swing.''

John's court appointed attorney was especially vicious and seemed driven to protect John at all costs. He would try to paint Dominique in the worst light and John as an all American boy who made a mistake. He was quite vile towards Dominique's family and voiced his annoyance at Dominique's mother attending the trial because he said that people would see the wheelchair and that it would add more sympathy to the Dunne family and more anger towards his client.

John put on a bit of a show and took a bible into the courtroom with him everyday. On one occasion they adjourned for the day because John said that he needed to have a cry because other prisoners had been harassing him. 

When John took the stand he claimed that he and Dominique had reconciled and were planning marriage and children. He said that on the night of the 30th of October 1982, she had suddenly changed her mind. He said that he felt that she had been lying to him and leading him on to which point he lunged towards her. He said he had no memory of hurting Dominique. All he remembered was finding himself on top of her with his hands around her neck. He then talked about how he tried to get her to walk but she fell down and at some point she had vomited. He said that he ran back into the house and swallowed two bottles of pills and laid down beside her, he reached over to her at one point to pull her tongue out of her throat. 

John's attorney pleaded that John had not acted in malice, that what had happened was a crime of passion but Dominique's family argued that John had gone over to her house to try and change her mind and take him back, when he realised that she was serious about the relationship being over, he became enraged.

The police who arrested John that night, said that he appeared calm and collected. One commented that John said ''Man I blew it!, I killed her, I didn't think I choked her that hard but I don't know. I just kept on choking her. I just lost my temper and blew it again''. 

A medical examiner who carried out Dominique's autopsy said that she had been strangled for at least 4 minutes. Prosecutors dismissed what John's attorney had said about a crime of passion. They said that in the time it took John to strangle Dominique, he had plenty of time to regain control of his actions which may have saved her life.

On the 29th of August 1983, John's attorney pleaded that there was insufficient evidence to charge him with first degree murder because there was no evidence of premeditation or deliberation. Judge Katz granted the request and told jurors they could only consider manslaughter or second degree murder.

On the 26th of September 1983, the jury acquitted John Thomas Sweeney of second degree murder and found him guilty of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. He was also convicted of misdemeanour assault for the altercation with Dominique that occurred on the 26th of September 1982.

Dominique's family were outraged by the verdict and called it an injustice after judge Katz excused the jury and told them that justice had been served, Dominick Dunne shouted out ''Not for our family judge Katz.''. The Dunne family accused judge Katz of purposely withholding John's ex girlfriend's testimony from the jury which helped establish his violent history with women. 

On the 7th of November 1983, John Thomas Sweeney was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for Dominique's death plus an extra six months for the assault charge. 

Outside of the courtroom, there were protests from victim's rights groups and the general public were appalled.

At John's sentencing, judge Katz criticised the jury's decision of manslaughter saying that he felt that Dominique's case was a case of murder with malice. The jury's foreman later told the media that he and his fellow jurors were surprised by judge Katz criticism and called his comment a cheap shot. He felt that the judge's criticism didn't stem from their verdict but from the harsh criticism he had gotten after the verdict was given. He said that if the jury had heard all of the evidence they would have convicted John of murder. 


After the trial, John Thomas Sweeney was incarcerated at a prison in Susanville, California. A year after the trial he tried to commit suicide.

John Thomas Sweeney was released from prison in the month of September 1986 after spending just 3 years, 7 months and 27 days of his sentence. 

3 months after his release John was given a job as head chef at an upscale restaurant in Santa Monica, California. Dominique's mother and brother found out about this and began handing out leaflets to restaurant diners which said ''The food that you will eat tonight was cooked by the hands that killed Dominique Dunne.''

John eventually left the restaurant due to the protest and moved out of Los Angeles.

In the mid 1990s, Dominick Dunne was contacted by a doctor who said that he had read his article that he had written about the trial in 1984. He said that his daughter had become engaged to a man called John Sweeney who was a chef and he was wondering if this was the same guy that was involved in Dominique's death. 

It turned out to be the case and the engagement was called off. John Sweeney accused the Dunne family of harassing him and trying to ruin his life. He moved again and changed his name to John Patrick Maura and found a job as a chef.

Years later, Dominick admitted that he had hired a private investigator to follow John for a few years to keep tabs on what he was up to. He then decided to leave things be. 

Before her death in 1997 at just 64 years old, Dominique's mother Ellen had founded Justice For Homicide Victims after Dominique had died and was recognised for her advocacy work by President George H W Bush. 

Dominick passed away in 2009 at the age of 83. I remember watching an interview that Dominick had given years after Dominique's death and he said that the last thing that his daughter had said to him was ''I love you Daddy.'' He said that he was lucky because he saw so many families through his work as a crime writer who'd lost a loved one and never got the chance to tell them that they loved them.

Dominique was only 22 years old when she was murdered, just 19 days before her 23rd birthday. She was laid to rest in Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles just a few feet away from one of her mother's closest friends Natalie Wood and her Poltergeist co-star Heather O'Rourke (who later died in 1988). 

What happened to Dominique was horrendous, a beautiful and talented life cut short by a dangerous man who didn't get the full punishment that he deserved. In my opinion, John should be in prison for life. I feel so bad for her family, what they went through losing her and then the disrespect at the trial and finding out that their daughter's killer was soon back on the streets carrying on with his life as if nothing had happened. From everything I read about John Thomas Sweeney, this seems to be one of those cases of ''If I can't have you, nobody can.'' Dominique was a fantastic actress and her career was taking off, she should have been able to fully enjoy her life and make more movies, who knows where she would have been today. R.I.P Dominique, Ellen and Dominick x



 Please check out my other true crime posts:


What Happened To Dominique Dunne? | Part One







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