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FDLE concludes Morris-BBPD death review

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

Morris

A 15-member panel of Florida Department of Law Enforcement members and medical examiners met in Avon Park Sept. 19 to review the 2009 death investigation of Sheena Morris.

Morris, 25, was found dead New Year’s Day at the BridgeWalk Resort in Bradenton Beach. The case was initially ruled a suicide by District 12 medical examiner Dr. Russell Vega, but was changed in 2011.

Morris’ mother, Kelly Osborn, hired Dr. Michael Berkland, who convinced Vega to change the cause of death from suicide to undetermined based on his review of crime scene photos. It was Berkland’s opinion that the crime scene could have been staged.

Berkland has since fallen under scrutiny after a Pensacola storage unit he was renting was found to contain a number of human organs being preserved in household containers. Berkland’s reputation was further tarnished when it was revealed he had been twice fired from medical examiner duties.

The FDLE team, as well as medical examiners from the 5th and 10th districts found no fault with Bradenton Beach Police Detective Leonard Diaz’s investigation.

Vega also was at the Sept. 9 review, but attended as an observer and to answer questions from the FDLE SMART Panel, as to why he felt the cause of death needed to be changed. His responses were confidential, although the information may become public at a later date.

Morris was found hanging by a dog leash in the shower stall of her motel room. BBPD and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigators determined there was no evidence of foul play.

Diaz, accompanied to the review by Lt. John Cosby, presented the facts of his investigation to the review board. The presentation began at 9:30 a.m. and did not end until about 3:30 p.m.

Diaz said he could not discuss the details of the review, but said it was professional and intense.

BBPD issued a press release Sept. 20 as to the review process.

“The SMART Panel did not reinvestigate the case, rather, this independent panel objectively reviewed the investigation relying on the specialized expertise of the members to provide suggestions or recommendations regarding the case,” the release stated.

On Sept. 21, Cosby said the panel’s recommendations would be submitted to the BBPD within the next two weeks.

“The review consisted of the panel knowing the basics of the case, with one member being kept completely out of the loop until the review,” said Cosby. “As Diaz presented his case, they asked questions and he answered them.”

Cosby said Police Chief Sam Speciale requested the review following Osborn’s public campaign for justice in her daughter’s case.

Osborn has maintained her daughter was murdered and has been critical of the BBPD and its investigation.

Once the FDLE recommendations are received, Speciale is expected to announce an “administrative reopening” of the case, Cosby said.

“What we expect the recommendations will ask is for us to close out any possible loopholes just to strengthen our own findings,” said Cosby. “Anytime you do work on an old case, it technically has to be considered reopened.”

Cosby has been acting chief for two weeks while Speciale was hospitalized due to illness. Speciale is expected to miss another week of work, but should return around the time the FDLE recommendations are finalized.

“Our goal once we receive those recommendations is to ask FDLE for their assistance in our investigation,” said Cosby. “There has a been an appearance that BBPD has stood alone in this case, and we want to make sure that we don’t have anyone saying this was a one-sided deal when we close this case again.”

Cosby said the review process also consisted of SMART members using Osborn’s website, “Justice for Sheena,” where the family lists its primary concerns with the investigation, as well as their own theories.

“They had that site pulled up through the entire review process and asked questions relating to the family’s concerns,” he said. “So the family’s concerns were addressed in the process and one of our goals is to address the family’s concerns to the best of our ability.”

Osborn expressed frustration that she continues to be updated by the media, rather than law enforcement, but said she is confident the SMART Panel will determine the case was poorly investigated in its recommendation.

“I would find it hard to believe that this panel could not see the mishandling of the domestic violence call, not questioning our family, Sheena’s friends and most importantly the boyfriend, who was involved in the dispute,” said Osborn.

Osborn has consistently criticized the way the initial call to police was handled, and has called it a domestic violence case.

BBPD maintains the call was not a domestic violence-related call, rather another resort guest making a call to complain of loud voices.

Police responded to the BridgeWalk Resort and reported observing the boyfriend calmly leaving the scene.

The officers then made contact with Morris, who told them no physical violence had occurred, according to the police report, which was filed as a disturbance call.

The responding officers were the last to report seeing Morris alive.

Osborn said she has made contact with another witness, and said that witness has tried to talk to the BBPD, but has not been allowed.

Speciale previously said no such witness has come forward and he welcomed Osborn to present new evidence, but she has not done so.

Osborn said she welcomed the news that the case may be looked at further, but continues to resist the idea of BBPD remains involvement.

“My concern still remains the same and that is BBPD should not be the agency to handle any follow up,” she said.    Osborn has maintained her daughter was murdered and has been critical of the BBPD and its investigation.

Once the FDLE recommendations are received, Speciale is expected to announce an “administrative reopening” of the case, Cosby said.

“What we expect the recommendations will ask is for us to close out any possible loopholes just to strengthen our own findings,” said Cosby. “Anytime you do work on an old case, it technically has to be considered reopened.”

Cosby has been acting chief for two weeks while Speciale was hospitalized due to illness. Speciale is expected to miss another week of work, but should return around the time the FDLE recommendations are finalized.

“Our goal once we receive those recommendations is to ask FDLE for their assistance in our investigation,” said Cosby. “There has a been an appearance that BBPD has stood alone in this case, and we want to make sure that we don’t have anyone saying this was a one-sided deal when we close this case again.”

Cosby said the review process also consisted of SMART members using Osborn’s website, “Justice for Sheena,” where the family lists its primary concerns with the investigation, as well as their own theories.

“They had that site pulled up through the entire review process and asked questions relating to the family’s concerns,” he said. “So the family’s concerns were addressed in the process and one of our goals is to address the family’s concerns to the best of our ability.”

Osborn expressed frustration that she continues to be updated by the media, rather than law enforcement, but said she is confident the SMART Panel will determine the case was poorly investigated in its recommendation.

“I would find it hard to believe that this panel could not see the mishandling of the domestic violence call, not questioning our family, Sheena’s friends and most importantly the boyfriend, who was involved in the dispute,” said Osborn.

Osborn has consistently criticized the way the initial call to police was handled, and has called it a domestic violence case.

BBPD maintains the call was not a domestic violence-related call, rather another resort guest making a call to complain of loud voices.

Police responded to the BridgeWalk Resort and reported observing the boyfriend calmly leaving the scene.

The officers then made contact with Morris, who told them no physical violence had occurred, according to the police report, which was filed as a disturbance call.

The responding officers were the last to report seeing Morris alive.

Osborn said she has made contact with another witness, and said that witness has tried to talk to the BBPD, but has not been allowed.

Speciale previously said no such witness has come forward and he welcomed Osborn to present new evidence, but she has not done so.

Osborn said she welcomed the news that the case may be looked at further, but continues to resist the idea of BBPD involvement.

“My concern still remains the same and that is BBPD should not be the agency to handle any follow up,” she said.

12 Responses to FDLE concludes Morris-BBPD death review

  1. Tricia says:

    Not only was Kelly not told about the panel meetings, she was NEVER give the opportunity to provide reports she had as evidence. Sheena most certainly expressed that she had been injured by that “alleged” monster in her 911 call that we have ALL heard. Anyone who says different is a liar in my opinion.

    Once again, the system has failed Sheena Morris. Those of us that care about her and her family, will not. This is not over.

    • jessica says:

      Clearly there is something wrong with the way this case was handled. People should start thinking…What if it was their daughter, sister, friend?? BBPD failed Sheena the first time and should have nothing more to do with this case!

  2. DAVID Morris says:

    This article contains so much double talk,sounds like Sam(cheif special)Det.Diaz and Mark Young were BORED and decided to throw this article together.I must say it was very poorly done!

  3. Bob Dylan says:

    Haven’t you wasted enough people’s time and tax dollars? You should stop your relentless pursuit and live with what’s being told to you by professionals with experience in what they investigate.

    • Pearl says:

      I, too, pay taxes Mr. Dylan and I think that these are tax dollars well spent. Since you didn’t know this beautiful girl the way we did, you couldn’t understand that we just KNOW that this was not a suicide. You are entitled to believe that we are in denial, but as tax paying citizens, we are also entitled to the allocation of a few tax dollars for what is important to US. Ihope you never have to “deal with” anything this tragic in your lifetime. I wish you the wisdom to learn patience and kindness in your lifetime. Respectfully, Pearl

  4. SmartwithoutPanel says:

    Finally this thing will be put to rest! And what everyone has known all along the young lady commited suicide!

    • Rachelle says:

      If you knew Sheena, and if you knew the boyfriend, and if you knew what kind of person he was and what kind of person she was…and knew all the strange events that led to her death, you wouldn’t question it for a second. There’s no way Sheena would’ve committed suicide, and whoever think’s that it’s even a possibility, just look at the facts. NO fingerprints, purse that the boyfriend took after he attacked her was found in the room when she was dead, NO sand on the shower/ bathroom floor however the bottom of her feet were caked with sand. YOU go step into damp florida beach sand…then walk into your house, into your shower and see how much of a sand trail you’ve left. IT’S COMMON SENSE!!!

      • The police are liable for not writing a report and not issuing packets and not arresting the boyfriend. Its basic, basic police work. Of course the detective will cover for patrol. The realationship doesn’t matter because there is a dating violence statute and a misdemeanor battery statute was changed that allows officers to make an arrest in a misdemeanor battery case even if the battery didn’t occur in their presence. Battery is one of the misdemeanor exceptions now just like contributing to the delinqency of a minor.

        • Oh dale read your statutes says:

          Dale you seem to be a expert on domestic violence. First of all from what I have read (same as you & everyone) there was no domestic. A noise complaint on new years really doesnt stand out as a major red flag. Getting back to your lack of statute knowledge NO you can NOT make an arrest on a misdemeanor without obtaining an affidavit of the stated crime! Since there is NO victim of domestic violence and no report of a domestic & no one involved one OR both wanting to even claim a domestic then the rest is a made up point.

          • It is one of the statutory exceptions listed in the statutes. Just like retail theft, battery, and the other twelve. Read the statute it was explained in my other posts which were conviently not listed.Oh yeah so is DWI and reckelss driving Florida Sate Statute 316.1925. Just because you live on the island doen’t make you an attorney.Your police department is wonderful. They just didn’t do this right and they are not qualified to do this one.

  5. Bradenton Beach Citizen says:

    I don’t understand how or why the police department is releasing statements about what is “probably going to happen” prior to actually receiving the FDLE’s recommendations?

    Why is it that our police department claim that they KNOW for a fact what happened that night? They are the only people in the country who believe that. In regards to the 911 call that was made by other guests, whether it was a noise complaint or a domestic violence call, I would hope and think the FDLE will ask the detective why they weren’t interviewed as witnesses? I would like to hear from the people who called the cops that night. We all watch crime investigation shows. Shouldn’t every apparent “suicide” be investigated for foul play, if there was no note? And there were 911 calls and police there the night before? Why didn’t these cops think it was suspicious that the boyfriend was leaving the hotel room at the moment the cops arrived? Usually the only people who run from the cops are guilty. Either way if this case doesn’t get investigated by experienced homicide detectives and CSI, the message our PD is sending all of the crazies out there, is that if they wants to murder someone, our children, our loved ones, all they have to do to get away with it, is put a gun in or a bottle of pills in the hand, or hang the body, and the case will be closed on arrival as a suicide. It is a shame, and also very scary and alarming.

    • Yeah its amazing that the so called press hasn’t even done enough home work to recognize that you as a police are required by law to write a report when you repsond to a domestic violence complaint. People yell and scream all the time it will come in as any number of different types of calls change the call title and write a report.Document and photograph the injuries. Separate the parties and interview them separately. Thats the start of the case. Arrest the offender thats the end of the case. She would still be alive. There would have never been a requirement for a canvas, processing the crime scene, or doing any cellular telephone work which by the way requires a forensics class and is not easy to do. The detective is covering for patrol.

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