Kelly Osborn, mother of Sheena Morris, who died in 2009, talks to reporters in October outside the Bradenton Beach Police Department. Islander File Photo: Mark Young
Since her daughter’s death in a Bradenton Beach motel room on New Year’s Day 2009 was ruled a suicide, Kelly Osborn has been on a journey to find out what happened to Sheena Morris, 22.
She has never believed her daughter committed suicide and she launched a public campaign to have Morris’ case reinvestigated. She has been successful in doing so, but now law enforcement say it is Osborn who is standing in the way of completing that investigation.
In October, Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale sent a letter to Osborn requesting Morris’ medical and psychiatric records, as well as her computer.
Morris sent a letter back to Speciale declining to do so, saying she did not trust BBPD to continue an investigation she believes it mishandled.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement became involved in the case in September when a FDLE SMART panel was convened to review the case.
While FDLE did not find fault in the BBPD investigation, FDLE did recommend further investigation. FDLE agents have been assisting with the investigation, but BBPD remains in charge of the investigation.
Osborn said she would only release the requested items directly to FDLE and only if she had the names and credentials of the agents taking possession of the items.
Osborn’s refusal to cooperate with the BBPD investigation sparked a reaction from FDLE special agent in charge John Burke.
In a letter to Osborn dated Dec. 3, Burke explained that FDLE does not have statutory authority to assume control of an investigation.
“The agency with the primary jurisdiction, in this case, the Bradenton Beach Police Department, retains control and has the ultimate responsibility to complete the investigation, and when appropriate, submit their findings to the proper authorities to determine if criminal prosecution is warranted.”
In this case, BBPD will submit its findings to the state attorney’s office for review.
“The role of the FDLE in this case is to assist BBPD with those tasks outlined by the panel; to facilitate investigative activity beyond BBPD jurisdiction, as well as provide additional forensic analysis where applicable,” Burke wrote.
Burke explained the process being followed is to conduct follow-up interviews and examination and re-examination of evidence.
He said he understands Osborn’s frustration, but she must understand the lawful process of an investigation.
“I must be clear that the only criminal investigation into your daughter’s death is being conducted by BBPD with the assistance and support of FDLE,” he wrote. “Your cooperation will be essential in fully examining the circumstances of your daughter’s death.”
Speciale previously told The Islander the items held by Osborn were requested of the BBPD by FDLE and that Osborn has refused to release them, but his department remains in charge of the investigation, which is why the request came from him.
Burke explained the reasons for the request, saying Morris’ physical and mental condition prior to her death is an important part of finding out what Osborn is trying to dispute, which is to see if there was any indication that Morris was suicidal.
Burke said an investigation is not only about finding new evidence, but ruling out possibilities and asked once again for Osborn to cooperate with the investigation.
“It would be my hope that you would cooperate with us in making the medical records available, as well as the other requested items,” he wrote.
Burke offered to facilitate the process and send an FDLE agent to her Tampa home to retrieve the items.
Burke also reminded Osborn that her public campaign to have her daughter’s death looked into further was successful, but that further public revelations about the investigation “has consequences.”
Osborn recently appeared on the “Dr. Phil” Show and last month she was a guest on the on the “Bubba the Love Sponge” radio show.
“It allows those with a motive to fabricate additional time and information in which to craft responses to questioning that, while untrue, incorporates the known facts,” he wrote.
He said it also allows “those without any direct knowledge to feign awareness of relevant facts and consumes investigative resources and possibly provides false or misleading information.”
Burke said everything that can be done in investigating Morris’ death is being done, but Osborn’s cooperation is needed to conclude the investigation.
Morris was found hanging by a dog leash in the shower stall of a room at the BridgeWalk Resort, 100 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach. Her cause of death was initially ruled a suicide, but was later changed after a forensic pathologist was hired by the family.
He managed to convince the medical examiner that the crime scene may have been staged based on his observation of the crime scene photos.
His reputation has since been questioned when information was discovered that the family’s “expert” had twice been fired. A storage unit rented by Dr. Michael Berkland also was found to contain human organs in household containers.
Morris’ cause of death was changed to undetermined in 2011.
The Islander was unable to reach Osborn for comment by press time.