Bradenton Beach police on Friday to receive report on woman's disputed death

rdymond@bradenton.comOctober 11, 2012 

Sheena Morris

BRADENTON BEACH -- A panel that has spent several months reviewing the case of a 22-year-old Tampa woman who was discovered hanging in a Bradenton Beach hotel room on New Year's Day 2009 will present the results of its review to Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale on Friday.

Sheena Morris' death was ruled a suicide by Bradenton Beach police, but Morris's family has been fighting to get the case reopened, feeling it might be a homicide.

The recommendations reached by the Specialized Multi-Agency Review Team, or SMART, about Morris' death and the resulting investigation have not yet been made public and will be up to Speciale to disseminate, Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said Thursday.

"I don't know what they are," Plessinger said. "They will turn them straight over to Bradenton Beach police."

Speciale said he doesn't know exactly when the panel members will arrive in Bradenton Beach Friday. But he said he will need time to read and study the report and its conclusions before he will make it public.

"I will put out a press release of what happened, but it absolutely will not be on Friday," Speciale said. "I have no idea what the recommendations are or how this will work. Since I don't know what the procedure are or what the report contains, I don't know how long it will take to go through it."

Plessinger said it is premature to say what the recommendations are because FDLE has not released any information.

"There are three things floating out there that are misinformation from what we know right now," Speciale said Thursday. "The first is that the SMART panel's decision is that we reinvestigate the case. The second is that we have already received these recommendations and the third is that we have scheduled a press conference already for Monday. Whoever is giving out this information is misinformed."

For the past nearly four years, Morris' mother, Kelly Osborn, has been doing anything within her power to urge Speciale to reopen the case or turn it over to another agency.

Her daughter was found asphyxiated, due to hanging, in a shower stall. An autopsy two weeks later concluded Morris died of hanging. The detective on the case, Bradenton Beach Police's Lenard Diaz, came to that conclusion as well in his official report shortly after the autopsy.

But Morris did not think her daughter took her own life.

She refers to a call that her daughter made to Bradenton Beach police around 1 a.m. on New Years Day, saying an argument had just occurred between she and her fiance in their hotel room.

When Bradenton Beach police responded to the hotel, they found the fiance was gone and reported that Morris seemed OK.

About 13 hours later, Morris' body was found, hanging from a dog leash.

Due to Osborn's efforts, Morris' body was exhumed in 2010 and another autopsy was conducted. This time an examiner ruled death by hanging, but that the manner was undetermined. Morris' manner of death in Manatee County's official records was changed from suicide to undetermined.

Several forensic experts, inspired by Osborn's determination in the case, reviewed the facts in 2011, including crime scene photographs, and concluded the death scene was staged.

Speciale soon after reached out to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and, in August, the FDLE requested the SMART panel.

Speciale has steadfastly taken the position that everything was done correctly in the investigation and that, baring new information, there is no reason to reopen the case.

Osborn, in earlier interviews, has said that she fears the SMART report will be just a rubber stamp of Diaz's conclusions.

Email and phone requests to Osborn for comment Thursday were not immediately returned.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service