BBPD death investigation back on track

The investigation into the New Year’s Day 2009 death of Sheena Morris, 22, in Bradenton Beach is moving forward following the cooperation of Kelly Osborn, the mother of Morris.

Osborn’s public campaign to have law enforcement look further into her daughter’s death at the BridgeWalk Resort in Bradenton Beach was successful, but it was interrupted when she refused to release evidence requested by the Bradenton Beach Police Department on behalf of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is assisting in the investigation.

Morris was found dead hanging by a dog leash in her motel room shower. The case was initially ruled a suicide, but the cause of death was changed to undetermined in 2011 by District 12 medical examiner Russell Vega.

Vega made the change based on opinions from a forensic pathologist — Dr. Michael Berkland, hired by Osborn — that the crime scene may have been staged.

Berkland’s reputation has since been tarnished by news that he was twice fired from medical examiner duties and later arrested for storing human organs in household containers within a Pensacola storage unit in his name.

FDLE reviewed the initial BBPD investigation in September, and while finding no wrongdoing, recommended further steps be taken to address some concerns.

Police Chief Sam Speciale reopened the case administratively to pursue those FDLE recommendations.

The investigation was moving forward until Osborn refused a November request from BBPD to release Morris’ computer, phone and medical and psychological records.

Osborn’s refusal prompted a Dec. 3 letter from FDLE special agent in charge John Burke outlining the importance of her cooperation and being more careful about what she says in public so as not to harm the investigation process.

A Dec. 12 story in The Islander about the letter spurred Osborn to accuse the newspaper of inappropriately publishing segments of a confidential letter.

However, FDLE and BBPD confirmed that the letter to Osborn was not marked confidential.

Osborn has now cooperated with the FDLE request after more than a month of delay.

“Kelly has been cooperating and, yes, she has cooperated with all of the requests,” said BBPD Detective Lenard Diaz, the lead investigator in both the initial investigation and the ongoing review.

Speciale said Osborn’s delay in handing over the materials may have extended the timetable of bringing the investigation to a close.

“It didn’t slow down the investigation, because they were doing interviews while they were waiting, but I would have to say that the delay in receiving them extended the case a little.”

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has reported the investigation would be concluded in four to six weeks, and that FDLE will be recommending a full investigation.

However, according to Speciale, that information is incorrect. “FDLE has not requested any formal investigation,” he said. “This is the investigation.”

Diaz said it would be a mistake to put a timetable on an investigation such as this.

“There is no timetable,” he said. “You can’t put a timeline on it. I think the technical aspect of the items requested will take awhile to decipher. It’s something they want to be thorough with.”

Diaz said the investigation is going smoothly and Speciale maintains a high level of confidence that his detective handled the original case correctly.

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