BB police chief: Morris death investigation winding down

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said March 19 that the investigation into the 2009 death of Sheena Morris, 22, is “winding down.”

Speciale said the assisting Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents, as well as BBPD Lt. Lenard Diaz are in the process of completing the FDLE SMART panel recommendations issued in September 2012.

The recommendations came out of a SMART panel review of the BBPD investigation after years of publicly campaigning for a new investigation by Morris’ mother, Kelly Osborn.

Morris was found hanging on her dog’s leash in the shower of her BridgeWalk Resort motel room on Bridge Street on New Year’s Day.

The case was ruled a suicide, but Osborn hired a forensic pathologist who convinced District 12 Medical Examiner Dr. Russell Vega to change the cause of death to undetermined in 2011 based on the expert’s opinion that crime scene photos showed the hanging may have been staged.

The forensic specialist, Dr. Michael Berkland has since been discredited with information he was twice fired from medical examiner duties, and an arrest late last year when police found human organs being stored in household containers in a storage unit rented by Berkland.

Berkland allegedly harvested brains, hearts, lungs and other organs from funeral homes where he conducted private autopsies.

FDLE found no wrongdoing in the BBPD investigation, but recommended the department close some loopholes in the case.

The investigation stalled in November when Osborn refused to comply with a BBPD request to release Morris’ computer, cell phone and medical records.

Osborn relented and released the materials after receiving a Dec. 3 letter from FDLE Special Agent in Charge John Burke outlining the importance of her cooperation.

Speciale said it was the delay in receiving those materials that delayed the investigation.

“FDLE didn’t give us a timeline for their IT forensic team to go through those materials,” he said. “We knew it would take awhile, but we are getting close to the end. When that happens, we’ll put all the information together and send it over to the state attorney’s office for its final conclusion.”

Speciale will not comment on the investigation, but has consistently maintained confidence in Diaz’s conclusions and stands behind the initial ruling of suicide.

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