Prosecutor: No 'probable cause' for homicide in O'Connell's death | News

Title (Max 100 Characters)

Prosecutor: No 'probable cause' for homicide in O'Connell's death

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- A special prosecutor's investigation ordered by Gov. Rick Scott into the controversial death of Michelle O'Connell found there is no probable cause to suspect she was murdered by her live-in boyfriend, St. Johns County Sheriff's Deputy Jeremy Banks, authorities said Wednesday.

The findings of Ninth Circuit State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton, released in a 70-page report, confirmed the case "does not meet the standards established for prosecution" and sided with conclusions drawn initially by a medical examiner and Fifth Circuit State Attorney Brad King, whose office previously investigated the case.

The report also found that new information provided by a private investigation and details outlined in a statement by Danny Harmon, former owner of a St. Augustine bar, alleging Banks had made suspicious remarks the night after O'Connell's death, did not change the original findings.

O'Connell, 24, was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head in 2010. The weapon involved in her death was Deputy Banks' department issued gun. Banks was also the individual who called 911 to report that she was unconscious and bleeding.

O'Connell's family members insist she wouldn't have taken her own life and they have called into question whether the Sheriff's Office properly investigated her death.

The story, which First Coast News broke in August 2012, has since made national headlines with a joint investigation by The New York Times and the PBS program "Frontline".

Both the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office and the District 23 Medical Examiner's Office initially ruled that O'Connell had died of "mechanical disruption of the cervical spine due to an intra-oral gun shot wound" and that she had committed suicide.

Gov. Scott ordered Ashton's office to investigate the case following the emergence of new information, including comments made on Facebook last October by Harmon, who aired suspicions that Banks had "killed" O'Connell. "That [expletive] got what she deserved," Harmon recalled Banks saying on Sept. 3, 2010, the night after her death. "All she did was make me feel bad. I am not going to let her ruin my life."

Harmon said those comments triggered his suspicions and compelled him to come forward. "I believe that Jeremy Banks had something to do with Ms. O'Connell's death," he said.

Clu Wright, a private investigator who looked into the case, told special investigators he had been told that O'Connell's family and attorneys had known about Harmon's testimony and "sat on it for 3 years," according to the report. Wright, who reportedly first learned of the testimony at a memorial for O'Connell held in Sept. 2014 from one of her closest friends, Cierra Morris, said he did not "know why the family waited to release this information."

Wright, a former fire investigator, also highlighted details that he suspected "would establish that the death of [O'Connell] was a homicide and not a suicide," according to the report. Those details, which were submitted to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi among others, included several pieces of evidence that appeared to have been overlooked by the Sheriff's Office's crime scene technicians as part of an alleged cover-up.

"....[Wright] highlighted a shirt, captured in scene photographs, which appeared to have blood on it. He also believed he could see a hole and GSR (gunshot residue) on this same shirt. He theorized the shirt had been inserted into Michelle O'Connell's mouth prior to the fatal shot being fired. He also referred to a black glove, seen on the hood of Jeremy Banks' personal vehicle and a black holster seen on the kitchen counter, both of which were captured in scene photographs," the report said.

"It was noted that [neither] the shirt, the glove, nor the holster were ever collected by SJSO Crime Scene Technicians who processed the initial scene."

"[Wright] went on to talk about how certain pieces of what he deemed to be evidence were not collected and/or tested; and, because of this, it appeared to him as though the investigating Sheriff's Office attempted to cover up the incident," according to the report.

Still, although he suspected O'Connell's death was a "homicide," he admitted that he didn't think "suicide was ruled out," Wright told investigators. Asked whether there was too much evidence missing in order to conclude definitively whether it was suicide or homicide, Wright said, "I would say that," according to the report.

The SJCSO is currently reviewing the report, spokesperson Chuck Mulligan told First Coast News. Through Mulligan, Sheriff David Shoar said he would not comment on the Ninth Circuit's investigation until a separate investigation into the alleged misconduct of an FDLE agent investigating the case was concluded.

Here's our initial report:

View the prosecutor's entire report:


St. Augustine Deals

St. Augustine Businesses