Crime and Law

PROJECT COLD CASE: Sisters running out of time to get justice for their mom’s murder 39 years ago

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — For 39 years, the slaying of a Ponte Vedra Beach mom has remained unsolved, despite the national attention the case has received.

For the past 15 years, Nancy Jo Canode’s daughters, Shuri Sheppard and Suzanne Speight, have been fighting for justice only to face reluctance from the state attorney’s office.

The family is convinced the problem has become personal between them and District 7 State Attorney R.J. Larizza. The family believes that’s why he won’t prosecute.

Larizza has never spoken publicly about the case.

Action News Jax sat down with members of the victim’s family who fear they’re running out of options, and time, to get justice for their mom.

“Do you believe it’s become personal between your family and Larizza?” asked Lorena Inclán.

“Yes. If you want to know the absolute truth, I do, and I wish it had not,” said Sheppard.

To say Sheppard and Speight are frustrated would be an understatement.

For more than a decade they’ve done everything they can to get justice for their mom.

But now they feel they’re running out of time.

“The case is getting older and that if we don’t do it now, we may not have a chance to,” said Sheppard.

Canode was stabbed and strangled to the death on March 3, 1981, inside her town home at The Fountains in Ponte Vedra Beach.

“I was 15, came home to find my mom had been killed. I was in 10th grade coming home from school so to have that sense of justice towards the only suspect it’s just indescribable,” said Speight.

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office has pointed to one suspect who was close to Canode.

Action News Jax is not naming him, because he hasn’t been charged with a crime in connection to the murder.

In 2005, the sisters approached Sheriff’s Office officials and asked them to revisit the case.

They not only revisited the case but in 2015, the lead detective agreed to participate in the show “Cold Justice”.

Despite all the evidence they gathered, leading the Sheriff’s Office to find probable cause, Larizza’s office still won’t budge.

“They had to stop cameras rolling just prior to that because I was crying and devastated and upset” said Speight.

The sisters admit there has been bad blood between them and Larizza, including a meeting in 2010 that ended with a tense back and forth.

Two years later, the family appeared in an ad for Larizza’s political opponent who ended up losing the race.

“If we owe him an apology, we’d be more than happy to meet face to face and give him that the apology that he deserves,” said Sheppard.

Action News Jax requested an interview with Larizza but his office only offered this short statement, saying:

“Because this is still an open and ongoing case/investigation, it would be inappropriate to make any comment at this time."

A statewide prosecutor has offered to take the case and pay for all the costs, but Speight said Larizza refuses to hand over the case.

“We understand he feels like the case is his responsibility, but we would like that one shot to take it to a grand jury,” said Speight.

The sisters wrote a letter to Attorney General Ashley Moody last year asking her to step in but her office said, “the prosecution of potential violations of criminal law is under the jurisdiction of the elected state attorney.”

Speight said they’re not giving up.

“We’re going to continue to contact the governor or the attorney general or anyone that we feel can listen to our story,” she said.

In the meantime, the sisters are on a quest to find the one piece of evidence that they feel would finally convince Larizza to prosecute, a life insurance policy taken out in their mom’s name.

“We need to find the policy, that is part of our search. If anybody out there and there’s also a $10,000 reward through Project: Cold Case for any information that leads to an arrest,” said Sheppard.