Probe finds no homicide likely in Florida mom's 2010 fatal shooting

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 29, 2015 4:08 PM

By Karen Brooks

(Reuters) - An investigation ordered by the Florida governor into a young mother's 2010 shooting death after local police were accused of mishandling her case concluded Wednesday that there is not enough evidence to justify murder charges, authorities said.

Michelle O'Connell's death was ruled a suicide by local investigators, but questions were raised about improprieties in the inquiry, in which the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office investigated one of its deputies.

The new investigation by an independent prosecutor's office was ordered by Florida Governor Rick Scott through an executive order in October 2014.

"Having assessed all of the evidence adduced in the investigations of this case, I reach the inescapable conclusion that whatever suspicions remain as to the manner of death of Michelle O'Connell, the evidence does not rise to the level of probable cause that a homicide occurred," Florida State Attorney Jeffrey L. Ashton said in a letter to Scott on Wednesday.

The 24-year-old mother was found shot to death on Sept. 2, 2010, at the St. Augustine home of her boyfriend, St. Johns County Sheriff's Deputy Jeremy Banks, whose weapon was used.

Banks denied having any involvement in her death.

O'Connell's friends and relatives have said that evidence such as a bruise, cut and a broken tooth suggest that she may not have killed herself, but was the victim of abuse.

They stressed that she would never have left her young daughter, Alexis.

"We're devastated," said Janet Johnson, an attorney for the O'Connell family. "The family still have the hope of justice for Michelle, but this is obviously a setback on that road."

Banks's attorney, Mac McLeod, said the investigation was "solid, professional and thorough," and said he hopes the O'Connell family gets closure from the findings.

"These aren't happy occasions at all," McLeod said in a phone interview. "These are occasions when, in these kinds of circumstances, you hope the truth comes out and appropriate findings are made, and that's what has occurred."

(Reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Eric Walsh)