Mother's crusade to get daughter's Bradenton Beach case reopened stalled

BRADENTON BEACH -- The first thing Tampa mother Kelly Osborn told city commissioners Thursday after she had waved protest signs for more than an hour in 96-degree heat in front of Bradenton Beach City Hall was that she was angry.

She is angry that, despite her efforts for the past three years, the case of her 22-year-old daughter's death remains closed by the Bradenton Beach Police Department as a "death by suicide."

Sheena Morris was found asphyxiated due to hanging in the shower of a Bradenton Beach motel room on New Year's Day, 2009.

Osborn wants the case reopened as a murder investigation and said she's angry that she is constantly told, "When you bring more evidence ..."

Thursday was no different.

"This case is still under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and when I get all the facts I will respond," City of Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy told Osborn during public comment prior to the council meeting.

"The case is not open, it is closed!" Osborn told Shaughnessy.

Osborn made it clear she wants more than the special FDLE panel scheduled to look at the evidence. She wants the Federal Bureau of Investigation or a similarly independent agency to take the case over.

She told commissioners that she is angry that Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam J. Speciale didn't call her on Aug. 7 when he received a letter from the FBI telling him that there would have to be a federal connection in order for that agency to research or investigate Morris' death.

"No one contacted me," Osborn told commissioners. "I get no correspondence. I heard about the letter from the FBI from a reporter."

As Osborn, Tony and Cheryl Telese of Tampa and private detective Bill Warner of Sarasota held signs saying "Justice 4 Sheena" in front of city hall prior to the commission meeting, Speciale was in his office a few streets away.

Speciale said Thursday that he is not the cold, heartless official he is being made out to be, caring nothing for Osborn and only for standing behind his detective and officers on the case, right or wrong.

He said he doesn't call Osborn because she doesn't trust him and berates him.

"She is never going to let this go," Speciale said. "As long as this story is alive, I believe she feels her daughter is alive."

Speciale said he has reached out to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, state attorney and now the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"The Manatee County Sheriff's Office and state attorney have both looked at this case and agreed it was a suicide," Speciale said.

"It's killing me and Detective Lenard Diaz, who worked the case," Speciale added. "We have children. We have families. We understand she is in pain. But this has to come to a point of closure. I have no credible evidence at this time to make me believe that this was anything but a suicide."

Warner said there was no sand in the shower where Morris was found, convincing him and Osborn that the crime scene was staged.

"Were they there?" Speciale said. "They are going by the crime scene pictures. Sheena could have had sand on the top of her feet. She was walking around that room so it would not be unusual not to have sand in the shower."

Speciale has an explanation for every question Osborn raises about the case. He said he would reopen the case if there was new evidence.