The Real Reason Dominique Dunne's Murderer Served Less Than 4 Years In Prison

On October 30, 1982, actress Dominique Dunne was murdered by a man who supposedly loved her (via All That's Interesting). Born into a prominent family, her father, Dominick Dunne, was a journalist and her mother, Ellen Griffin, was an heiress. Needless to say, her life was one of wealth and privilege. Dunne, however, wanted to forge her own path and pursued acting (via Reel Reviews). In 1982, she landed her biggest role yet in "Poltergeist." The film was a breakthrough for Dunne's career, and it was evident that she was on her way to becoming a star. She also managed to fall in love with John Thomas Sweeney, a chef at the upscale Ma Maison restaurant in Los Angeles.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the pair met at a party and quickly moved in together. However, not all was well with the young couple. Film Daily reports that Sweeney was physically abusive. At one point, he reportedly attacked Dunne so brutally that she did not require makeup to film a scene where she was playing an abused child.

Though they saw therapists, the violence continued to escalate and Dunne ended the relationship. Sweeney subsequently moved out of their apartment. On that fateful October day, he showed up to his former home to speak to Dunne, who was rehearsing with co-star David Packer. Packer heard screams and called the police, who informed them Dunne's home was out of their jurisdiction.

The justice system failed the Dunnes

Per All That's Interesting, Packer found Sweeney standing over Dominique Dunne's limp body. When police finally arrived, they arrested Sweeney, who stated that he had tried to kill himself and his girlfriend. Dunne was taken to the hospital and was pronounced brain-dead (via Film Daily). She died days later at the age of 22. According to The Los Angeles Times, it was concluded that Sweeney had strangled her for four to six minutes. 

Less than a year after her death, he went to trial. Judge Burton S. Katz presided over the case and reportedly had a "kindly demeanor towards Sweeney." The trial went awry from the beginning. Prosecutors wanted to charge Sweeney with first-degree murder. Katz, however, prohibited this because he thought "the killing was not premeditated." He also refused to allow Sweeney's former girlfriend, whom he had allegedly beaten several times, from testifying. "You don't convict a person because they've done something bad in the past," the judge reportedly stated. 

Ultimately, Dunne's family felt this was all because of "ill will" between the judge and the prosecutor. Sweeney was later convicted of voluntary manslaughter and served three years and seven months for murdering Dunne. He returned to work as a chef at another upscale LA restaurant. It's believed Sweeney eventually changed his name and left Southern California for good (per Reel Reviews). The family feels that Dunne did not get the justice she deserved. They later created a victims' advocacy group in her honor.