Friends and family of the late Sheena Morris, the Tampa woman who died at the BridgeWalk Resort in Bradenton Beach on New Year’s Day of 2009, wants the Federal Bureau of Investigation to take over the case.
Morris’s mother, Kelly Osborn, demanded at an Aug. 2 city commission meeting that commissioners direct Police Chief Sam Speciale to ask the FBI to investigate the case, which was originally ruled a suicide.
Morris was found hanging from the shower by a dog leash following an argument with her boyfriend, who had reportedly returned to Tampa the previous evening after the argument. Cell phone records indicate the couple texted one another until 4 a.m. on New Year’s Day.
Osborn insists her daughter was murdered and in 2011 hired forensic experts to review her daughter’s case. A medical examiner changed the cause of death from suicide to undetermined based on the opinion that the crime scene could have been staged to look like a suicide.
Speciale said the FBI would not investigate the case, even if it was ruled a homicide. He contacted the Tampa division of the FBI before and after Osborn made her public request, and received a letter dated Aug. 7 from Special Agent Steven Ibison.
“The FBI is authorized to collect intelligence and to conduct investigations to detect, obtain information about, and prevent and protect against federal crimes and threats to national security,” Ibison wrote. “As a component of the Department of Justice, our authorities are directed and controlled by regulations and guidelines issued by the Attorney General of the United States of America.”
Ibison the FBI has “very little authority to assist” in local and state investigations without a federal nexus.
Ibison said the FBI can provide expert assistance, but only when lives of others are directly in danger.
“Currently, the FBI does not have the authority to provide expert personnel to review a death investigation lacking a federal nexus or statutory authority,” Ibison concluded.
Osborn’s public campaign to seek the truth in her daughter’s death led to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement agreeing to review the case.
FDLE arrived in Bradenton Beach last week, but Speciale said it was only an informational meeting.
“FDLE sealed the case file so no one will be able look at the file until their review is completed,” Speciale said. “FDLE is planning on assembling a 15-person board to review this case, but will likely do so in Sebring.”
Speciale said he expects resolution on the case sometime in September.
The chief has stood behind his department’s role in the investigation. Osborn has been critical of the Bradenton Beach Police Department, calling it inept to handle a case of this magnitude.
Osborn has laid blame on BBPD for ruling her daughter’s death a suicide, but Speciale said his detective’s role in the case was that he found no evidence of foul play at the crime scene. Speciale said the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office processed the crime scene and reached the same conclusion, and it was the original medical examiner who ruled the cause of death a suicide.
Speciale said FDLE also has reviewed the case file before and reached the same conclusion again.
Speciale said he has been willing to reopen the case if any credible evidence was presented. Osborn claims to have such evidence, but Speciale said he has not been approached by Osborn with any new evidence in Morris’s death.
An attempt to reach Osborn for comment was unsuccessful by The Islander press time.