The Murderer at Home | Dominique Dunne
Episode 9

The Murderer at Home | Dominique Dunne

Dominique Dunne was a budding actor who was killed by her boyfriend in 1982. Rasha and Yvette talk about the dangers of domestic abuse, and how the punishment for these types of offenses rarely fits the crime.

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In The Episode

Trevor Young 00:00

Hey there, everybody. Just a quick disclaimer before we get going. So this episode contains discussions of domestic abuse and violence and might not be appropriate for all listeners. If you yourself are someone who is at risk of domestic violence or are dealing with it now, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. That's 1-800-799-7233. Thanks for listening. You're listening to Facing Evil, a production of iHeartRadio and Tenderfoot TV. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the individuals participating in the show, and do not represent those of iHeartRadio or Tenderfoot. TV. This podcast contains subject matter which may not be suitable for everyone. Listener discretion is advised.

Yvette Gentile 00:54

Hi, everyone, welcome back to Facing Evil from Tenderfoot. TV and iHeartRadio. We are your hosts. And of course I am Yvette Gentile. 

Rasha Pecoraro 01:03

And I'm Rasha Pecoraro. And as always, our amazing producer, Trevor Young is with us here as well. 

Trevor Young 01:09

Hello, hello. 

Yvette Gentile 01:10


Trevor Young 01:11

I know, we usually use this opening section to talk about things that we've been doing recently, or just chit chat for a minute. So one of the things I maybe want to start doing is just like talking about cool things we've seen or heard or read about recently. And one of those things for me, just kind of like a show recommendation. It's not true crime related. It's just like an amazing show. I stumbled upon that I want to promote I'm not being sponsored by anybody, but...

Rasha Pecoraro 01:26

Yeah, love that. Are you?

Yvette Gentile 01:39

Are you sure Trevor?

Trevor Young 01:40

 No, I'm not. Really, I'm not. I just think it's a great show. And it's called The Bear. And it's on Hulu. 

Yvette Gentile 01:45

Oh my god. Trevor, 

Trevor Young 01:47

Do you know about the show? I assume you know about the show, 

Yvette Gentile 01:49

Dude, I binged the whole, do you know my husband and I binge the entire season. 

Trevor Young 01:56


Yvette Gentile 01:56

And I can't, I cannot wait for the next season. It is so good, right?

Trevor Young 02:00

Yeah, yeah it's great. And I kind of wasn't expecting it to be, you know, I heard people online being like, Oh, this is the most realistic representation of like, being in a kitchen, working in a kitchen. And I watched like the first few episodes and I was like, yeah, I can see that. This seems like maybe a little over the top at times, especially with like the cousin character who's just like... 

Yvette Gentile 02:18

Right. He's so hysterical.

Trevor Young 02:18

A total jackass. I was like, Yeah, okay, I can see how this is like super gritty and realistic. But then like the last two episodes...

Yvette Gentile 02:26


Trevor Young 02:27

Just like really hooked me and like the finale especially was just like, one of the best, like, season finales of a show I've seen in a long time. So

Yvette Gentile 02:35

I agree. Rasha you have to watch it. 

Rasha Pecoraro 02:37

Yeah, I have to watch it.

Trevor Young 02:38

Yeah, it's great. Because I mean, it's about cooking. But it's also about like, all these very interesting people. And it's like the kitchen is more just like a background.

Yvette Gentile 02:46


Trevor Young 02:46

Yeah, for like these other bigger emotional family stories that are going on. And they all just like tie together really nicely by the end.

Yvette Gentile 02:55

I couldn't agree with you more, Trevor. It's so good. It's really fast pace, which I love. My husband was like, a little bit like, I don't know if I can.. 

Trevor Young 03:03


Yvette Gentile 03:04


Trevor Young 03:06

I think that's the point though right? It's supposed to be a little bit...

Yvette Gentile 03:08

Yeah. But I loved it. There was such a rawness to it. You know, and the acting is fantastic.

Rasha Pecoraro 03:17

I need to watch it. I've been busy watching Only Murders in The Building. All right. Well, that is amazing recommendation, Trevor. So with all of that being said, Will you please take us through today's case?

Archive Clip 03:31

They had a romance, and he stopped her. She became frightened. She never told us he was abusive to her and he killed her.


She was so great. She was such a charming, adorable girl and you just can't believe that she, that somebody would ever want to hurt. And here we were burrying her.


The heart of this case was whether or not this was murder, or manslaughter. And within that construct was whether or not there was malice, which is necessary for murder, or on the alternative the killing was in the heat of passion.

Trevor Young 04:08

On the evening of October 30, 1982, actor Dominique Dunne was at her house rehearsing scenes from the miniseries V with her co-star. A role in Poltergeist had recently made the 22 year old actor a star, but their rehearsal was interrupted by a visit from Dominique's ex boyfriend, John Sweeney. Sweeney had violent tendencies and their argument outside the house escalated. Dominique's co-star called the police, but when he went outside, he found Dominique lying on the ground unconscious. John Sweeney was kneeling over her. And in that moment, Sweeney reportedly confessed to her murder. But after a bizarre trial, Sweeney was only ever convicted of voluntary manslaughter. And after a short stint in prison, he walked free. And so what really led to the murder of Dominique Dunne? How did this young promising actor come to be involved with Sweeney? And what led to what many believe to be an infamous miscarriage of justice?

Rasha Pecoraro 05:14

It's so sad to me how common stories like Dominique's are. These stories of women being abused by their life partners. And I know you know, people of all genders experience abuse, but it's it's definitely heavier on, you know, the female presenting side. And I had no idea until we were doing research for this case that her killer only served a few years in prison, like...

Trevor Young 05:40


Rasha Pecoraro 05:40

Do you remember when this happened, Yvette?

Yvette Gentile 05:43

Um, I mean, I remember I should say, I remember Dominique, you know, from Poltergeist, because I was in 10th grade. And that was such a, you know, a huge movie. And I remember always being afraid to turn the TV on, and if it started fuzzing up, saying oh shit, what's gonna happen? But I did not know, you know, and we'll get into that later, you know, in the show about, you know, how much time this man actually served for killing? You know, Dominique, it's devastating. 

Trevor Young 06:17

Yeah, I didn't know anything really about this case until maybe a couple of months ago when we first started researching and looking into it. And, man, what a horrible way for this to end. You know, I mean, all of it is horrible, but particularly that just like the trial part of this, I think was the most shocking part for me. 

Yvette Gentile 06:36

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. 

Trevor Young 06:37

But I mean, looking into it. It was clear, I think, from the very beginning, that, you know, John Sweeney was a very violent person, you know, as we'll learn, he even abused partners before Dominique. And like Rasha was saying, I mean, especially in you know, places like Hollywood, this sort of thing happens, just like all the time.

Rasha Pecoraro 06:57

Yeah, that's right, Trevor. And here is a sobering statistic for you. In 2017, 87,000 women around the world were killed intentionally. And more than half of those women, a full 58% of them were killed by intimate partners, or family members. So that means that every single day, 137 women around the world are killed by a family member or an intimate partner, every single day, a woman is killed by someone who's supposed to love them every single day. 

Yvette Gentile 07:34

Those are crazy numbers. And it's just so sad, because you know, so many women are in situations. And obviously, and I'm sure they they want to get out. But sometimes you just, you know, you don't know how to get out, you know, because of fear because of things like this, that obviously do happen. And it just seems like there's such a double standard in many ways that... 

Rasha Pecoraro 07:59


Yvette Gentile 07:59

It it allows this type of violence to persist, you know, and that's something that that I think we really should get into today. And we really need to address this, you know, this domestic violence.

Rasha Pecoraro 08:12

Yeah, agreed. And the numbers themselves are staggering. But let's jump in and take a look at the facts of Dominique Dunne's life. So obviously, Dominique Dunne was more than a statistic. She was more than just a number. She was a person, a really promising actor from a prominent and beautiful family. And she actually grew up right in California surrounded by the entire Hollywood scene, right, Trevor?

Trevor Young 08:41

Yeah. Not far from where I live and I'm sitting right now. So about her family. Dominique's parents were Dominick Dunne. And he was an influential writer and producer. And then her mother was Ellen Dunn, who throughout the story, you'll hear us refer to her as Lenny. That was her nickname. So Dominick Dunne's brother was actually married to the celebrated writer Joan Didion, which is interesting. And growing up, Dominique Dunn was privy to all of these different famous Hollywood people, you know, through her family and through her dad.

Rasha Pecoraro 09:15

Yeah, and after she graduated from high school, Dominique decided to pursue acting. She was in a TV movie called Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker. And in that movie, I saw a clip of it over the weekend. We watched, Yvette and I, we were together in San Francisco and watched an old episode of E True Hollywood Story from the late 90s about Dominique. And ironically, she was beaten up and raped in that first movie, I mean, her character, you know. Yeah, her character was and she also appeared in a number of shows like Lou Grant and Yvette's favorite Fame. 

Yvette Gentile 09:49

My favorite, Fame! 

Rasha Pecoraro 09:53

And then she actually got her big breakout role playing the teenage daughter in Poltergeist, which was filmed in 1981, and came out in 1982. So if anyone knows who Dominique Dunne was, they probably know her from Poltergeist. It was a huge blockbuster hit.

Trevor Young 10:11

Yeah, I guess all this story kind of takes place like right at the culmination of her new fame. Right?

Rasha Pecoraro 10:16


Yvette Gentile 10:17

Right. But it's 1982. And she attends a party in Los Angeles, like, you know, many starlets do and she meets John Sweeney. So Trevor, tell us who this guy is.

Trevor Young 10:33

Well, John Sweeney was a 27 year old sous chef at a French restaurant called Ma Meizon, which I assume was a French place. And it was just a super trendy restaurant at the time. So this is actually where Wolfgang Puck got his start back in the 70s. And basically invented the whole California nouvelle cuisine there. So it made sense that a current Ma Meizon chef would be at this hip, Hollywood party. And this is where he meets Dominique Dunne. So the two started dating and moved in together just a few months into their relationship.

Yvette Gentile 11:07

Right. And this is where we start to get a sense that things might not be okay, you know, they might not be so great. We have the sense that John Sweeney, you know, was head over heels for Dominique obviously, it seems like he was definitely more in love with her than she with him. And you know his affections bordered on excessive jealousy and, you know, like hovering over her so to speak. And I know that feeling all too well, but anyhow, Rasha, I'll let you jump in here.

Rasha Pecoraro 11:45

Yeah, an example of that, that hovering and you know, jealous demeanor that John had towards Dominique. So one of Dominique's brothers, Alex had told his parents of an incident that took place, when like a fan came up to Dominique in a restaurant again, she had just come out with Poltergeist this particular fan happened to be male he was, you know, fanning out over, Oh, my God, it's Dominique Dunne from Poltergeists. 

Yvette Gentile 12:11


Rasha Pecoraro 12:11

And John Sweeney, like, freaked out. And when he saw this man talking to his girlfriend, Dominique, he became enraged. And Alex told his parents and he told the press, "he picked up the man and shook him Sweeney's reaction was out of all proportion to the incident going on." And Alex, Dominique's brother called it scary.

Yvette Gentile 12:36

Yeah, of course. And I think like he, when I was reading this article, you know, I think he shook him. And he actually, like, threw him like, on a table like it was crazy. And her father, Dominick, had a similar experience. He was going to meet the couple for lunch. And John and Dominique were running a bit late. And when they got there, it was clear that Dominique had been crying. And her father could sense that there was a great deal of tension between the two. What he could see is that it's going to be really hard for her to get away from this man, because he was that controlling. And he just said he had the feeling that he was just creepy.

Rasha Pecoraro 13:25

Yeah. And it kind of it takes me back. Right. I hadn't really thought about everything like that you and I have been through right Yvette, like over over the years until we were, you know, looking into Dominique's case, and it just makes me think about how violence against... you know, stereotypically, and the numbers show this, but how violence against women by their male partners is incredibly normalized by our society. Right. So just when you were talking about how Dominique's dad, you know, saw, like tears in her eyes, like, right, I can remember an incident when we were living together in LA, and he shall remain nameless. But I, moved, you know, from Portland to Los Angeles, to be with, you know, mom, and Yvette. And I brought along a boyfriend with me, because this is before I came out at the age of 30. And I had been in an abusive relationship. And I didn't even remember that until we were looking into Dominique. And I was like, Oh, shit, like, I've been there. But I thought it was my fault.

Trevor Young 14:31

Yeah. First of all, I'm sorry to hear that. Although I like, I guess I'm not surprised. You know, I think it's just a thing men do and I think women go through and, and I do think, you know, one of the good things here is that, you know, you both of you had each other and you had a family environment where you could, you know, have each other's back. 

Rasha Pecoraro 14:51

We had help. 

Yvette Gentile 14:52


Trevor Young 14:52

Yeah, exactly. And, in the case of Dominique, it's interesting because she also had that but it ends up not being enough. And I think that's because this case, you know, John Sweeney he kind of is just too aggressive. Right, like... 

Rasha Pecoraro 15:09


Trevor Young 15:09

You know, he just keeps coming back. And this is something you see, I think a lot in domestic abuse is, you know, they don't know how to take no for an answer. 

Rasha Pecoraro 15:18

They don't let go. 

Trevor Young 15:19

Right, yeah, they don't let go.

Yvette Gentile 15:20


Trevor Young 15:21

You know, and Dominique's mother, in this case, kind of catches this on one occasion. There's one night where Dominique kind of flees to her mom's house in tears. And this is after a fight, where John Sweeney was attacking her pulling out clumps of her hair, supposedly. 

Rasha Pecoraro 15:38


Trevor Young 15:39

And her mom gave this really kind of chilling quote, where she says, "He had such a terrible temper. He smashes furniture and throws dishes." And so when Lenny Dunne, the mom, pointed out that Sweeney seemed dangerous, Dominique responded by saying, "Oh, he'd never hurt me." As though she herself has like internalized this idea that like this is just normal.

Yvette Gentile 16:04

Right. Right, as if he hasn't hurt her already, in which we know that he has, but she's in her mind rationalizing. You know what he's done, right? I mean, the one thing that this makes me think about is, we always ask why battered women just don't leave the relationships. You know, and I'll bet some listeners are shouting out right now, right, leave him like, why didn't you leave him? But the fact of the matter is, it takes time, you know, to navigate out of those situations. And, you know, and especially in the situation with Dominique, like she didn't tell her parents.

Rasha Pecoraro 16:05

Yeah. They just witnessed some things. Yeah. 

Trevor Young 16:45

I don't think she even really accepted it herself, you know?

Rasha Pecoraro 16:47

Yeah, exactly. 

Yvette Gentile 16:49


Rasha Pecoraro 16:49

Just by that quote, to her mom saying he would never hurt me you know, like, he's already hurt you. 

Yvette Gentile 16:55

Yeah. Yeah. 

Rasha Pecoraro 16:57

And when you are in an abusive relationship, like your thoughts, you know, they're all over the place, just like me, like, I remember even having the conversation with Yvette a few days ago and I was like, oh, no, like, you know, I was in his face, like, I made him hit me. And she's like, no...

Yvette Gentile 17:12

No, no

Rasha Pecoraro 17:13

It doesn't matter what you say, you know, like, I never hit him first, you know, like, yeah, no, there's no excuse period. And oftentimes, like, you're so controlled, or you're so traumatized, or it's like, what is that syndrome...

Trevor Young 17:29


Rasha Pecoraro 17:29

 where you end up like... 

Yvette Gentile 17:30


Rasha Pecoraro 17:30

Thank you. Stockholm syndrome. Where you end up, you know, in love with your abuser? 

Trevor Young 17:35


Rasha Pecoraro 17:35

Like, I think that might be what was going on here. And you think that, like, even like me, like you think you deserve it? 

Yvette Gentile 17:41


Rasha Pecoraro 17:41

When you don't.

Yvette Gentile 17:42


Rasha Pecoraro 17:42

Yeah, no one deserves to be physically or abused in any way. But, yeah.

Trevor Young 17:48

Right. But I mean, the sad truth is that the situation with Dominique kind of just gets worse from here. And we'll talk about where this goes after we take a quick break.

Rasha Pecoraro 18:03

Okay, so it's 1982 and Dominique Dunne is caught in a relationship with her abuser, John Sweeney. It's in September of that year, that another argument turned violent.

Trevor Young 18:17

Right. So this one takes place at the couple's house that they live at together. And supposedly, John Sweeney threw Dominique Dunne to the floor and started to choke her. And there was a friend staying with him at the time, and he remembers coming into the room after hearing what they described as "loud gagging sounds." So at this point, after a bunch of back and forth, Dominique manages to escape out of the apartment. So there's a big scene where he runs outside and tries to throw himself onto the hood of her car, and she's like pulling out of the driveway. Luckily, she does escape. And she is able to stay with her mother for the next few weeks. But you know, she does break up with him at this point, understandably. 

Rasha Pecoraro 18:58

Oh, good job Dominique. 

Trevor Young 18:59

Yep. So she asked him to move out. And after he moves out, she returned back to that apartment in West Hollywood and had the locks changed.

Yvette Gentile 19:08

And I just hate that that's not the end of her story.

Trevor Young 19:12

Right. This is probably where it should have ended. But it doesn't. It's now October, and Dominique is at her house rehearsing with a co-worker. She has just been cast in the new sci fi TV show V with her co-star David Packer. And they're going through scenes together in her living room. So at one point, she's on the phone with a friend, and the operator cuts through to interrupt the call. And the person calling is John Sweeney.

Rasha Pecoraro 19:39

Right. So at this time, Dominique says to her friend, David, "Oh God, it's Sweeney. Let me get him off the phone." And these are the last documented words we have from Dominique Dunne. So 10 minutes after John Sweeney, her violent ex boyfriend, called Dominique Dunne he showed up at her house because he was only walking distance from where they lived...

Yvette Gentile 20:06

Right, from the restaurant 

Rasha Pecoraro 20:07

From the restaurant where he was at. 

Yvette Gentile 20:08

Yeah, yeah. And we know what happened because David Packer, which was your co-star from V was there at the house, they were rehearsing the scene. And then, you know who shows up.

Rasha Pecoraro 20:21

Right. So she first is talking to John, you know, through basically she had protection because she had that door. It was just kind of opened up a little bit because she had the latch on it. So she had that little layer of protection, but then she agreed to step outside and talk to John Sweeney, while David just waits inside. And Trevor, this is where things got really bad, right?

Trevor Young 20:46

Yeah. So David Packer says he heard them start to argue from outside. And then he heard the sound of, "Smacks, a scream, and then a thud." So he calls the police. But they first told him that Dominique's house is out of their jurisdiction. 

Rasha Pecoraro 21:03

Whew. Wow. 

Yvette Gentile 21:03


Trevor Young 21:03

So David Packer gets really scared. He calls a friend and leaves a message on this friend's answering machine saying, "If I die tonight, it was by John Sweeney." So David Packard decides to leave the house through the back door, and he walks down the driveway. And that is when he spotted Dominique, unconscious and lying in the bushes, with Sweeney kneeling over her. So they kind of lock eyes. They're just kind of an understanding as to what's going on. And Sweeney tells David to call the police, which he did. And I guess they come this time. So when the cops arrived, John Sweeney was standing in the driveway, his arms raised above his head. And he reportedly told them, "I killed my girlfriend, and I tried to kill myself." And he was arrested on the scene and charged with attempted murder.

Yvette Gentile 21:57

Isn't that a confession right there you guys? 

Rasha Pecoraro 22:00


Trevor Young 22:01

Yeah. I mean, you have a confession. You have a witness. You have a history. 

Rasha Pecoraro 22:04

Right, right. 

Trevor Young 22:05

I mean, this is all going to come into play later. But I mean, one interesting thing here, and Rasha I know you have some feelings about this is, you know, why didn't her co-star David Packer step in to do anything? Right. He's just kind of... 

Rasha Pecoraro 22:17


Trevor Young 22:18

left... You know, he heard the commotion outside and just decided to bail. 

Rasha Pecoraro 22:23

Yeah, I mean, at least he called, at least he picked up the phone. But still, yeah.

Yvette Gentile 22:28

We do know what was going through his mind. He was scared. You know, he was scared for his life. But still, you know?

Trevor Young 22:35

Yeah. I mean, just, it's possible, though, that, you know, Dominique would still be with us today. 

Rasha Pecoraro 22:40


Yvette Gentile 22:40


Rasha Pecoraro 22:40


Trevor Young 22:40

Had he just like, intervened. You know. He could have just even scared John off, you know, like, whatever.

Rasha Pecoraro 22:47

Yeah, yeah. And who knows what the dynamic was? Right.

Yvette Gentile 22:50

Yeah. I think that's interesting, too, is when he called 911, and they said that, you know, well...

Rasha Pecoraro 22:58

Out of our jurisdiction 

Yvette Gentile 22:59

It's out of our jurisdiction, like, I mean, that's just crazy. Well get somebody in the jurisdiction to get there. You know, like, 

Rasha Pecoraro 23:06


Yvette Gentile 23:06

Catch him over to the...

Trevor Young 23:07

Who should respond to this, then?

Rasha Pecoraro 23:08

Yeah, yeah. You know, that wasn't David's fault in that sense. 

Yvette Gentile 23:12

No, because, you know, David did the right thing he called 911.

Rasha Pecoraro 23:16


Trevor Young 23:17

Yeah, there's just like a lot of failures that happened. But at the end of the day, it's still primarily John Sweeney's responsibility.

Rasha Pecoraro 23:24

Yeah, you know, I read an article and if you get a chance to read the article that her father Dominick Dunne wrote, it's so powerful and you know, he talks about this moment when they were going to the hospital and they were really worried about the mother, Lenny, because at the time Lenny was in a wheelchair,

Yvette Gentile 23:24


Rasha Pecoraro 23:24

Oh, yeah, he's the one that took Dominique's life. And right after that confession, Dominique was taken immediately to Cedars Sinai Medical Center, where she was placed on life support. And apparently, she was almost completely unrecognizable to her family. She had tubes everywhere. Her head was shaved, and there was a large bolt that was screwed into her skull to help relieve some of the pressure on her brain because, you know, she was, we believe strangled. And on her neck her family could still see the bruises of the hand marks from John Sweeney's hands. As her father wrote, after the fact, and this is a quote from the prolific writer, Dominick Dunne, "It was nearly impossible to look at her, but also impossible to look away." Right.

Yvette Gentile 24:49

So they were worried that this would, you know, impact her health by seeing, you know, her daughter like this, and, you know, it was Dominick, Lenny and the two brothers, Alex and Griffin, and they opened the door. And she was the one that he said was the strong one. 

Rasha Pecoraro 25:13


Yvette Gentile 25:14

Lenny was the strong one. The boys, the men were just like it just destroyed them, you know, to see their sister like that. But Lenny took Dominique's hand in hers, and she just started talking to her. And this was a release, you know, for the family to kind of let go of that shock, you know, in that moment, right, and just just speak to their sister. And as her father wrote, and this is a quote, "We prayed for her to live, even though we knew that it would be best for her to die." That's a hard thing to say for a parent. 

Rasha Pecoraro 25:53

Right. On November 4, just a few days after the attack, Dominique's family does agree to take her off of life support. They say goodbye to her for the last time and her organs are donated before her body is turned over to the coroner for the autopsy. And two days later, they held her funeral in Beverly Hills at a beautiful Catholic Church and I even saw footage of the funeral. And there were hundreds of people there and so many, you know, actors and producers and directors and all kinds of people who loved Dominique, this young 22 year old human who has taken from us too soon. And it's so sad, right?

Yvette Gentile 26:39

Yeah, it's very sad. And again, you know, she was just, you know, at the peak right of her career of, you know, completely, you know, thrusting into stardom. So, like I said, I was just speaking about that article that Dominick Dunne had wrote from Vanity Fair, and this is after the trial. So now let's, talk about this crazy trial and how it begins.

Trevor Young 27:07

Yes, it is quite a crazy trial. And that is exactly what we'll talk about after we take another quick break.

Yvette Gentile 27:17

John Sweeney's trial is presided over by Judge Burton S. Katz. And it began August 1983. And it's, can I just say it's dramatic from the beginning to the end.

Rasha Pecoraro 27:32

Yes. And the prosecutor actually placed a lot of emphasis on the time that it took for John Sweeney to strangle Dominique Dunne. In fact, he began by starting a stopwatch and having it run, and it was completely silent in that packed courtroom and he let that stopwatch run for four minutes, because essentially, that is how long, John Sweeney strangled Dominique Dunne. And that's how long it took for her to die, because she essentially went brain dead, when she was strangled by him in those four minutes.

Yvette Gentile 28:11

Think about that. Four minutes is a very long time. And the thing about that is, is your intention has to be to kill her. If you are strangling her for that long. 

Trevor Young 28:26

Yeah, I mean, if it wasn't premeditated, then probably you know, I don't know a couple seconds into it, you'd be like, Oh, wait, I shouldn't be doing this.

Rasha Pecoraro 28:34

Like oh, shit... Right, 

Yvette Gentile 28:34

Yeah. Like, oh, god 

Rasha Pecoraro 28:36

I'm killing her... 

Trevor Young 28:36

But no, he keeps going. He just keeps keeps keeps going.

Rasha Pecoraro 28:40

Yeah. And that's the point that the prosecutor wanted to make in that courtroom. And this part is where I'm gonna get mad even thinking about it. Like, I can't even say the name Judge Katz and not be angry whenever I think about this. So the prosecutor brought in Lillian Pierce, and Lillian was an ex-girlfriend of Sweeney's. And she testified really movingly, about John's history of violent behavior towards his partner. Right, Trevor?

Trevor Young 29:11

Yeah. I mean, not that we needed Lillian Pierce's testimony to prove his guilt. 

Yvette Gentile 29:17


Rasha Pecoraro 29:17


Trevor Young 29:18

And that said it should have and could have been the final nail in his coffin. So Lillian Pierce testifies that they had been together for two years, and that on 10 separate occasions during that time, he beat her to some degree. She had, "been hospitalized twice, once for six days, once for four days. Sweeney had broken her nose, punctured her eardrum, collapsed her lung and thrown rocks at her when she tried to escape from him. She had seen him she said, foam at the mouth when he lost control and smash furniture and pictures. And as she spoke, the courtroom was absolutely silent."

Yvette Gentile 29:58

I mean, come on.

Trevor Young 30:01

Yeah. And so at one point during Pierce's testimony, Sweeney became enraged listening to this, and so he jumped out of his seat and tried to escape out of the courtroom. So he was tackled by the bailiff and restrained in his chair. This is where things get weird though, because the judge did really little to admonish or punish him in any way. He reportedly just told Sweeney that he knew how much pressure he was under, you know, like showing him sympathy...

Rasha Pecoraro 30:29


Trevor Young 30:29

You know, and kind of like gave him a little slap on the wrist. The other important thing to know about this testimony from Lillian Pierce, is that the defense made a motion to not have the jury listen to that testimony. And Judge Katz allowed that to stand. So the jury wasn't actually in the room when Lillian Pierce gave that testimony about how abusive he was.

Rasha Pecoraro 30:56

And that is why Judge Katz pissed me off. 

Yvette Gentile 31:00


Rasha Pecoraro 31:00

His career was ruined after this trial, and rightfully so. I mean, even in what you just said, Trevor, like, he was like, oh, you're okay. He was like, making sure that John Sweeney was all right after that horrific outburst, and then he doesn't let Lillian's testimony...

Yvette Gentile 31:19

He doesn't let the jury hear it. 

Rasha Pecoraro 31:22


Yvette Gentile 31:22

It's just crazy. It's like watching Law and Order. Can I just say...

Rasha Pecoraro 31:26


Yvette Gentile 31:26

And you have the crazy guy, you know, on the stand who has an outburst, and it's like, the judge would be like, you know, order in the court, order in the court, bailiff. You know what I mean? Like, instead, this judge is like, oh, it's okay. I know this is you know, stressing on you. Like what? 

Rasha Pecoraro 31:43


Trevor Young 31:43


Yvette Gentile 31:44

You know, Dominique's family is there.

Rasha Pecoraro 31:47

And Lillian Pierce is there who was horrifically abused by him. 

Yvette Gentile 31:52

Yes. I mean, it's just ridiculous. like ridiculous.

Trevor Young 31:57

Right, so Sweeney's attorney makes another request that the judge again grants, which is that there is not sufficient evidence to charge Sweeney with first degree murder, and that the jury should only be allowed to consider charges of manslaughter and second degree murder. And the defense's reasoning for this was, "There is no premeditation or deliberation in this case." And again, Judge Katz agrees to do this.

Yvette Gentile 32:26

Like, what is up with this judge? You know, again, I go back to the article that Dominick wrote, and he writes about this judge, and from what I understand, like he's a very arrogant kind of almost like, similar to John Sweeney, like in personality like that. 

Trevor Young 32:44

I'm sure they're buds. 

Rasha Pecoraro 32:45


Yvette Gentile 32:46

Right, exactly what I'm seeing because, you know, it took four minutes, right, for her to die. He choked her out for four minutes. So that they just pretty much discounted that. And he gave a confession to the police, they discounted that. And the ex-girlfriend testifies and the jury doesn't get to hear that.

Trevor Young 33:11

Yeah, I mean, this should have been a slam dunk case. I mean... 

Rasha Pecoraro 33:13


Trevor Young 33:14

They had everything you need... 

Rasha Pecoraro 33:15


Trevor Young 33:16

To convict someone of first degree murder, like literally everything you could ever want in a case. 

Rasha Pecoraro 33:20

Everything, Trevor.

Trevor Young 33:21

It's so insane.

Rasha Pecoraro 33:22

And it makes me so mad even saying these words. The defense kept saying, oh, John Sweeney was just caught up in "the heat of passion." I'm sorry... 

Yvette Gentile 33:33

That's bullshit. 

Rasha Pecoraro 33:34

Yeah, no, F that. And they're saying that he was not aware of what he was doing. Okay. Again, you know, arguably, right? I have to say, like, I think this is part of rape culture, right? A lot of times, men, you know, get away with rape, or get away with violence or abuse, because they're like, oh, they were just caught up in the moment. They couldn't stop themselves. They're not a wild animal. 

Yvette Gentile 33:58


Rasha Pecoraro 33:58

You know, like, I'm sorry, but you absolutely can control your actions. And in those four minutes, that John was strangling Dominique, he could have made that decision to stop.

Trevor Young 34:12

Yeah. And even if you like, really can't control your emotions, like if you're literally foaming at the mouth, like supposedly John Sweeney was, that is no one else's responsibility. You know what I mean? Like, you don't just get a free pass...

Rasha Pecoraro 34:25


Trevor Young 34:26

You know, for murdering someone because you can't control yourself, you know, you still need to be punished for that and learn lessons and this guy doesn't. And no one ever gives him a chance to learn a lesson because he keeps getting off the hook.

Rasha Pecoraro 34:39

Yeah. And that's the toxic boys will be boys mentality.

Trevor Young 34:42


Rasha Pecoraro 34:42

And I think that's what Judge Katz was perpetuating. And it's just disgusting.

Yvette Gentile 34:47

He was in that same paternity because he's allowing all of this. You know, it's sickening and you know, it's just... what happened to Dominique, it just jarred their entire family. Now they have to sit through this trial and watch this bullshit? 

Trevor Young 34:52


Rasha Pecoraro 35:06


Trevor Young 35:06

Yeah, it's pretty much a sham by this point and it doesn't get any better. So the jury deliberates for eight days. And then, lo and behold, they decide to acquit Sweeney of second degree murder, that instead they only find him guilty of voluntary manslaughter, as well as a small misdemeanor charge from when he attacks Dominique, in September, the earlier incident in 1982.

Yvette Gentile 35:30

In that courtroom, there was, I mean, an audible gasp of disbelief. This is years later, and we are still ourselves in disbelief. Can you imagine sitting there in that courtroom and hearing this nonsense?

Trevor Young 35:47

Yeah, I mean, going back to Dominick Dunne, the writer he said, "the maximum sentence for the two charges is six and a half years. And with good time and work time, the convict is paroled automatically when he has served half his sentence without having to go through a parole hearing. Since the time spent in jail between the arrest and the sentencing counted as time served Sweeney could be free in two and a half years."

Rasha Pecoraro 36:13

W T F. Dominique's father, Dominick Dunn was pissed. He was enraged all the things. And he writes, "I could not believe I had heard Judge Katz, thank the jury on behalf of my family, for reducing the murder of my daughter to manslaughter, not for our family, Judge Katz, I shouted."

Yvette Gentile 36:42

Damn straight, right. I mean, so John Sweeney is sentenced to six years in prison. And the jury foreman later said that if they'd heard Lillian Pierce's testimony, they would have convicted him of murder. So Trevor, John Sweeney was sentenced, what became of him?

Trevor Young 37:07

Yeah, I mean, he wasn't sentenced to a lot. So I mean, he went to a medium security prison and was released on parole after just three years. So almost exactly how Dominick Dunne predicted. So he then got hired as a head chef at a upscale restaurant in Santa Monica. And he was working under an assumed name. But Dominique Dunne's parents were able to find him. And they drew these huge crowds out to protest outside of the restaurant. So this drives Sweeney to quit the restaurant, and eventually leave Los Angeles. So at one point, Dominick Dunne goes through the process of hiring a P.I. a private investigator, to track down Sweeney with the intent of having him killed. 

Yvette Gentile 37:51


Trevor Young 37:52

But he does change his mind, thankfully.

Yvette Gentile 37:53


Trevor Young 37:54

So a dozen or so years later, he gets a call from a man in Florida, who believes his own daughter is engaged to John Sweeney, and Dominick Dunne tries to stop the wedding. Sweeney then accuses Dunne of harassing him. 

Rasha Pecoraro 38:08


Trevor Young 38:09

So I believe this falls apart. But today anyways, Sweeney is supposedly living under a different name. And Dominick Dunne says he has no idea where he is. So it sounds like John or whatever his name is now has essentially gone off the grid, gone into hiding, which is probably, I guess, the only option he had available to him at this point.

Rasha Pecoraro 38:32

A big takeaway here for me is that what happened to Dominique Dunne and others like her is inexcusable, plain and simple. But also, you know, we have to thank God, the Goddesses, whoever you believe in, you know, we have to look at the light in the darkness of this case. We have made progress since Dominique's murder. In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was passed in reaction to the many, many crimes like this one. And it seems like it, or at least I hope that we've made progress as a culture. But at the same time, it's not over yet.

Yvette Gentile 39:14

No, it's never over. And I would just like to say like, back in the 80s, Lenny Dunne, Dominique's mom, she actually started her own group back then and it was called the California Center for Victims of Homicide. So we fast forward and we have the Me Too movement and all that continues to come to light about a soul and women's inequality. It demonstrates that we have a long way to go and we will keep fighting and we will keep persevering.

Rasha Pecoraro 39:53

And this brings us to our Imua our final message of hope and healing. So this week our Imua is dedicated to victims of domestic and partner violence everywhere.

Yvette Gentile 40:06

That's right, Dominique Dunne was striving to move beyond one of the worst chapters of her life. And she didn't make it.

Rasha Pecoraro 40:14

But today, we lift her up. She was more than the worst part of her story. She was a bright, young, talented, beautiful human filled with hopes and dreams. So for those of you out there who have been abused, we see you. We cannot take away your pain, but we are holding you in the light. And we want you to find your way out of the darkness.

Yvette Gentile 40:38

You are more than the worst thing that has ever happened to you. You are light, you are strength, and you are never alone. Onward and upward. Imua. 

Rasha Pecoraro 40:53

Imua. Everyone deserves relationships free from domestic violence. If you're in danger, there are caring people who can help. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. That's 1-800-799-7233. Well, that's our show for today. We'd love to hear what you thought about today's discussion. And if there's a case you'd like for us to cover, find us on social media @facingevilpod or email us at 

Yvette Gentile 41:32

Until next time, aloha.

Trevor Young 41:41

Facing Evil is a production of iHeartRadio and Tenderfoot TV. The show is hosted by Rasha Pecoraro and Yvette Gentile. Matt Frederick and Alex Williams are executive producers on behalf of iHeartRadio with producers Trevor Young and Jesse Funk. Donald Albright and Payne Lindsey, are executive producers on behalf of Tenderfoot. TV, alongside producer Tracy Kaplan. Our researcher is Claudia Dafrico. Original Music by Makeup and Vanity Set. Find us on social media, or email us at For more podcasts from iHeart Radio or tenderfoot TV, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.


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