Kelly Osborn, mother of Sheena Morris whose 2009 death was initially ruled a suicide, pickets Aug. 16 outside Bradenton Beach City Hall. Osborn resumed her call for an investigation into her daughter’s death and gained an audience on the Dr. Phil TV show. Islander Photo: Mark Young
Kelly Osborn’s long journey to find out what happened to her daughter on New Year’s Day 2009 in a Bradenton Beach motel room took a turn toward more questions than answers after an appearance last week on “Dr. Phil.”
Sheena Morris, 22, was found hanging by a dog leash in the shower the day after Bradenton Beach Police responded to a disturbance call from another guest that there were loud voices coming from the room of Morris and fiance Joe Genoese.
Osborn has long suspected Genoese as having something to do with her daughter’s death, but he has never been a suspect. He has at least one witness placing him in Clearwater the night Morris died.
Morris took her journey to “Dr. Phil,” which aired Oct. 25-26. Genoese also agreed to appear on the television show and to take a polygraph in order to clear his name, but the results of the test created more concern than clarity.
He was asked two relevant questions four times during the test, administered by former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Jack Tramarco.
Did he kill Morris or did he have any involvement in her death? Genoese answered “No” to the questions.
“The answer to both those questions is that it was deceptive,” Dr. Phil McGraw announced. “You were not telling the truth when you said that.”
Osborn broke into tears as Genoese explained that he was nervous about taking the test as a possible reason for the results, and said he would take another polygraph, “Because I would never do anything like that.”
Since the show aired, Genoese has hired an attorney.
Osborn isn’t convinced with the boyfriend’s reasoning. In a news conference following the two-day segment, she said, “This really confirms the direction that is most likely.”
She expressed confidence that the revelations on “Dr. Phil” would bolster her daughter’s death investigation, first ruled a suicide, but later changed in 2011 to undetermined.
“It feels good to finally have some help,” said Osborn. “We couldn’t get that from law enforcement and having Dr. Phil’s help is certainly turning this around.”
BBPD Chief Sam Speciale reopened the case earlier in October following a Florida Department of Law Enforcement Smart Panel review of the investigation.
The Smart Panel provided 15 recommendations for BBPD to follow up on regarding Morris’ death, and an FDLE agent was assigned to assist.
Osborn announced following the Dr. Phil show that FDLE has increased the number of agents assisting on her daughter’s case to three.
“It’s been our fight to please give the case over to FDLE entirely,” said Osborn. “The police department should not be reworking a case they have already messed up on.”
Speciale said earlier that BBPD would remain the lead investigative department and said the case reopening remains an administrative opening in order to follow FDLE’s recommendation.
“A television show isn’t going to change the course of this investigation as it stands now,” Speciale told The Islander. “A polygraph is a tool that can help an investigation, but there’s a reason why it is inadmissible in a court of law. There are a lot of determining factors that can cause a polygraph to not be accurate.”
Tramarco told Dr. Phil he was 90 percent confident the polygraph was accurate, and went so far as to label Genoese a “suspect in my mind.”
Speciale said his department remains in charge of the case, but he will follow any and all recommendations from FDLE.
“If FDLE determines that there is something more to do with the results of this polygraph or something they saw on the show then we will do it,” he said. “But as of right now, we are continuing to follow the recommendations of the Smart Panel. Nothing has changed.”
Speciale said as of Oct. 26, the majority of the FDLE recommendations have been addressed, “and nothing significant has been discovered. We continue to have daily contact with FDLE and, again, we will follow up on anything they decide is important to this case.”
Dr. Phil congratulated Osborn for her tenacity, but said for her own good, “The best thing you can do is step back and let the professionals do their job.”
Osborn sent two letters to Speciale dated Oct. 23 and Oct. 24, after the taping of the show but before it was on TV, asking that Speciale recant all statements that her daughter’s death was a suicide and once again asked BBPD to turn the case over to another law enforcement agency, “due to a lack of objectivity.”
Sheena’s last night
According to a 911 call, a couple next door to Morris and Genoese at the BridgeWalk Resort in Bradenton Beach, a couple was heard “screaming and yelling at one another” over what sounded to the caller to be about money.
Genoese told Dr. Phil that he didn’t recall an argument about money, but that Morris had tried to take his money off the room’s nightstand and leave. He admits he grabbed Morris’ shirt to stop her.
Genoese said he left shortly after that, telling Morris the relationship was over.
Two BBPD officers arrived to the hotel room and saw Genoese calmly leaving the scene. According to the incident report, Morris was asked if she had been physically assaulted and she told the officers no, but that she was stranded without a way home.
One of the officers asked if she had family to come and get her, at which time Morris said her father lived out of state and she didn’t want to speak to her mother. The officers continued to converse with Morris and they eventually cleared the scene, listing the incident as a disturbance, and not a domestic violence call based on Morris’ statement.
Morris later took cellphone photos of a mark that was left on her neck, and a small laceration on her ring finger and sent them to Genoese. She also sent him a text, which stated, “You are evil and scary.”
About 12 minutes after sending the text, Morris called 911 and said she feared Genoese was going to enter her apartment and told the Tampa dispatcher that she had been assaulted by Genoese.
Morris continued to send texts to Genoese into the early morning hours.
She was due to check out of the BridgeWalk motel in the morning. When she did not, and no one answered the door, hotel employees called police to have her removed.
Police responded and found her hanged in the shower stall — dead.