Michelle O'Connell's death ruled homicide in new autopsy

A private pathologist who conducted the latest autopsy of Michelle O'Connell's body ruled her death a homicide.

O'Connell was found dead on the floor of her boyfriend's home in 2010 from a gunshot wound.

Her boyfriend was St. Johns County Sheriff's Office deputy Jeremy Banks.

Several local and state investigators ruled she killed herself with his service weapon but family does not believe her death was a suicide.

Banks was cleared of any wrongdoing.

O'Connell's body was exhumed from her burial site on Jan. 11 and Dr. Bill Anderson performed the autopsy pro bono.

Findings of the autopsy were released on Sunday. The family filed the findings with the Medical Examiners Commission on Monday.

In 2014, Gov. Rick Scott assigned a special prosecutor to the case. In 2015, State Attorney Jeffrey L. Ashton said the evidence in O'Connell's case did not support homicide.

The investigation into O'Connell's death was the subject of national media coverage by outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, Dateline, PBS Frontline and ABC's Good Morning America.

St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar released a statement about the findings on Sunday and said no new information was presented and all was reviewed during the initial autopsy.

The full statement reads:

On January 12th, 2016 media reports circulated that the body of Michelle O'Connell was removed from her place of rest by certain members of her family.  At the time, no one was certain exactly why this was done but the speculation was that a paid expert witness would be hired by these family members to produce a report that of course would support their belief about the case.  Today we learn that this speculation was accurate.  The report of the paid expert was delivered by a resident of Clay County who has a "private investigators" license with no connection to any official entity including law enforcement.  It is critically important to note that no person officially associated with a prosecutor's office or law enforcement agency was in any way involved including when she was removed from her place of rest.  Why did these certain family members not request a judge to order a proper and officially sanctioned exhumation?  We suspect the answer is that they would not have met the threshold for a judge to order one.  Most importantly, there have been three separate officially sanctioned medical examiners review this case as well as two officially sanctioned special prosecutors (Jeff Ashton and Brad King) appointed by the Governor, all have determined there is NO evidence present to indicate anything other than that Michelle died by her own hand.  The last special prosecutor went so far as to write that he was, "thankful it was NOT a homicide because had it been, it could never have been prosecuted due to the actions of the state agent who at one time was involved in this case."  The information presented today is nothing new and all was reviewed during the initial autopsy. Molesting Michelle from her place of rest using some freelance type approach is beyond unconventional, it was reprehensible.

The primary advisers to the few family members who will go to any lengths to maintain their moment in the spotlight consist of the private investigator, a former St. Johns County Deputy Sheriff who was fired for ethical misconduct and who is now a candidate for political office.  Interestingly, this same individual has been hinting at some recent political events that there was some "big news" coming regarding the O'Connell case.  Coincidently, the last time Michelle's sister was interviewed on local television she actually told the reporter that this case is about, "politics".  Though thereporter never followed up on her comment, as the political season evolves it has become very clear what she meant. And finally a career "drug" investigator and current state agent who was recently reprimanded for conducting a "substandard" investigation into the death of Michelle O'Connell.

A great question for the public and media to ask would be, why hasn't the family filed suit against the person they think was culpable in Michelle's death?  The answer is probably the same as why they did not seek an official exhumation, because there is no Probable Cause to indicate Michelle died by anything other than her own hand.  Of vital importance that most folks do not understand is that the person that certain members of the family think is culpable in Michelle's death, is one of only two people (along with Michelle's brother Scott) who HAS filed a civil suit in relation to this case (against FDLE and Agent Rodgers).  People who are culpable or have committed crimes do not file civil suits because when they do, they can longer shield themselves behind the Fifth Amendment and a civil suit puts everything under a microscope.   Fortunately, the civil suit filed by Michelle's brother Scott and Jeremy Banks is well under way and hopefully there should be closure within the next year.  I have always taken the position that if a jury ever gets to hear what Scott and Jeremy had to endure because of the conduct of a few people with personal agendas, it would shock their consciences and they would rule in favor of both Scott and Jeremy, I still maintain that position.

The record clearly shows that we have always held employees accountable at the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office when they violate our policies or engage in criminal conduct.  In the past, I have had to discipline and even arrest employees for misconduct.  If, however, an employee is unfairly and maliciously targeted by external forces they will have no stronger advocate than myself.  This case is an example of the latter and not the former."