FDLE report may change Bradenton Beach probe in Sheena Morris' death

rdymond@bradenton.comOctober 13, 2012 

BRADENTON BEACH -- An inch-thick report delivered to the Bradenton Beach Police Department at 9 a.m. Friday by three Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials did not dispute the department's finding that a 22-year-old Tampa woman's death in 2009 was a suicide.

But the report also offered unspecified recommendations that could, theoretically, lead the case in a different direction, said Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale.

"I don't believe that any of the recommendations or concerns will change the outcome of this incident," Speciale said Friday after meetings with the officials for 90 minutes. "It is my opinion that they found no fault with our case."

During his meeting with officials, Speciale said he was told by FDLE clearly that if he follows all the recommendations in the report and finds just cause to officially reopen the case, FDLE will not be the investigating agency.

"I'm satisfied with the recommendations and there weren't any surprises," Speciale said.

The family of Sheena Morris, led by the tireless efforts of her mother, Kelly Osborn, has felt for four years that Morris' death was not a suicide by hanging, but was a homicide. Bradenton Beach police have stood by the ruling of suicide.

But Speciale asked the FDLE to step in and take a look at the case over the last two months.

The FDLE-driven report, complied by a panel of experts, did make numerous recommendations on the fine points of the case, recommendations that Speciale said he plans to follow, which could produce new material.

"We will do everything they have asked us to do in their report and we will turn the results over to the state attorney's office for further review," Speciale said. "At that point, if the state attorney finds probable case that a crime has been committed, then we will reopen the case. But if they concur that no crime has been committed, we will close the case."

The report did not say if the death was suicide or homicide, but simply made multiple recommendations for Speciale to follow, the chief said.

"They are making their agency available if we need any help," Speciale added.

Speciale said he will make all the recommendations available to the public after he has fully researched them.

Speciale also said he called Osborn to inform her of the report and that it included recommendations that he planned to follow.

An email and phone call to Osborn by the Bradenton Herald were not immediately returned.

Speciale said that Osborn was appreciative in their conversation.

"I wanted her to hear what happened before she read or heard it," Speciale said. "She thanked me and said she appreciated the fact that I did speak to her about this. She asked me the same questions everyone is asking, 'What are the recommendations?' I told her I couldn't tell her that. But I assured her that once everything was finished we would contact her and let her know the outcome."

Speciale said he received dozens of phone calls Friday, including one from NBC's "Dateline" program with all media members asking if the case has been officially reopened or still closed.

"The case was administratively reopened when FDLE began to look at it two months ago," Speciale said. "It has never closed since then."

Speciale said the case will be administratively open until FDLE, the state attorney's office and the Bradenton Beach Police Department agree that all the recommendations have been carried out.

At that point, it could be officially closed or reopened by his department.

The recommendations contained in the report are both administrative and investigative.

"I am hoping that when this is done it makes Sheena's family feel a little more comfortable," Speciale said. "I want them to know we did everything we could to come to a conclusion in this case."

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