New Investigation Into Florida Woman's Mysterious 2010 Death

Michelle O'Connell's has argued for years that her death was not a suicide.

October 7, 2014, 8:20 AM

— -- Authorities in Florida are launching a new investigation into the mysterious 2010 death of a mother -- a death that was originally ruled a suicide.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order Friday reopening the investigation into the death of Michelle O’Connell, with a special prosecutor appointed to investigate.

The executive order also has the former states attorney recusing himself because of a conflict of interest and warning of another conflict of interest: O'Connell's boyfriend at the time, Jeremy Banks, was and is a deputy with the St. Johns County Sheriff's office, one of the primary investigating agencies.

O’Connell’s family has argued for years that the 24-year-old was murdered, that investigators made a mistake.

Banks discovered O’Connell’s body on Sept. 2, 2010. He dialed 911, suggesting to the dispatcher that O’Connell may have shot herself.

Neither Banks nor anyone else was ever arrested in the case, and the sheriff’s department said it stands behind its investigation.

Banks is “not fearful of an investigation,” said his attorney, Mac McLeod.

The renewed focus on O’Connell’s death came one month after a bombshell accusation made by former bar owner Danny Harmon. According to a police affidavit, Harmon said Banks came to the bar he then owned, the Ring of Fire, the night after O’Connell’s death making unsettling remarks.

“He told me that all she ever did was put him down and make him feel bad about himself,” Harmon said. “He was going to be moving on with his life, and he wasn’t going to let the [explicative] hold him back anymore.”

McLeod denied his client ever spoke to Harmon.

“My client wasn’t anywhere near that place,” McLeod said.

A 2013 PBS Frontline and New York Times investigation also alleged that a secondary wound on O’Connell’s face was inconsistent with suicide, because she would have had to have held the gun upside down.

Family and friends held a vigil in O’Connell’s memory Monday on what would have been her 29th birthday. A major reason why her friends doubt that she would take her own life is her then-4-year-old daughter, Alexis.

Ciara Morris, a friend of the victim, said that Alexis misses her mother.

“She has days where she just reaches up to the sky and cries and begs for her mom,” Morris said.

The O’Connell family claimed that it was a conflict of interest for Banks’ sheriff’s office colleagues to investigate the death.

“Normally, they wouldn’t investigate their own body,” O’Connell family attorney Janet Johnson said.

ABC News Chief Legal Affairs Anchor Dan Abrams said while he believed the initial investigation was flawed, it was still unlikely that the case would reach a courtroom.

“Cops very often have to investigate one of their own, and most of the time they do that in a fair way,” Abrams said. "But in this case, there’s no doubt the investigation was botched and they should not have immediately treated this as a suicide, but seriously investigated whether it was a homicide.

“There are so many questions about how the evidence was handled, and evidence that wasn’t even collected, that it’s hard to see a prosecution going forward,” he said.

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