New account from bar owner fuels push to reopen Michelle O'Connell case

by: Leslie Coursey Updated:

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Was it suicide or something more sinister?  On the four year anniversary of Michelle O'Connell's death, that question remains. 

On Sept. 2, 2010, O'Connell was found dead inside her boyfriend's St. Augustine home.  Her death was ruled suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

"Four years ago, Michelle lost her life.  It was taken," said O'Connell's sister, Jennifer Crites.

O'Connell's family never believed the 24-year-old mother would take her own life.  Instead, they believe O'Connell's boyfriend, St. Johns County Deputy Jeremy Banks, pulled the trigger.

"We feel like the investigation was sabotaged from the beginning. Evidence was thrown aside, tossed in the trash," said O'Connell's best friend, Ciarra Morris.

In a charge led by attorney Benjamin Crump, O'Connell's family and friends hand delivered a letter to the State Attorney's Office Tuesday asking for the investigation to be reopened.

"Her death is consistent with homicide more so than it is suicide," Crump said. "There is something awfully troubling about how Michelle O'Connell died and we need to get to the bottom of it."

They want a coroner's inquest and they say a powerful new witness has come forward who saw Banks less than 24 hours after his girlfriend died.

St. Augustine tattoo artist Danny Harmon has come forward with a story about the demeanor of Banks in the hours after O'Connell's death.

"He just said, 'The f-ing B deserved what she got.' And yeah, it struck me as weird," Harmon said.

He told Action News he owned a bar then called the Ring of Fire. He said Banks was a frequent customer who sometimes had to be asked to leave because of his rowdy behavior.

"He would come in and definitely get to a point in his drinking where he would lose his temper and just become unpredictable," he said.

Harmon said Banks was in his bar the day after O'Connell was found dead and he said the comments he was making about her were unsettling.

"She wasn't going to ruin the rest of his life. He was moving on. All she ever did was put him down.  It struck me as odd, for sure," he said.

His sworn affidavit is part of the O'Connell family's latest plea to the State Attorney's Office to reopen the case. 

"We will fight until we get the due process that we deserve," said Morris.

They don't believe she committed suicide and Harmon isn't so sure either.

"I don't think justice has been served yet," he said.

Action News asked Harmon why he's telling his story now, four years later. He  said did speak up in the days after O'Connell's death, but he didn't really want to get involved.

But after he was approached by the family in June to give a statement, he said he knew it was the right thing to do.

Banks is still working at the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office.  Action News contacted the Sheriff's Office for a response.

It issued a statement that read, in part

"The fact is, the classification of this incident is suicide following independent rulings from three (3) Medical Examiners, who ruled the death a suicide, and the governor-appointed state attorney who also found no legal standing to pursue the death as the result of a criminal event."


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