Add People Magazine to the list of national media questioning whether the shooting death of 24-year-old Michelle O’Connell on September 2, 2010, was “Suicide or Homicide” in today’s issue on newsstands now. Historic City News has been in communication with members of the O’Connell family since this tragedy occurred.
At issue in a New York Times article, broadcast for the PBS series “Frontline”, and aired in an episode of Dr. Phil, now People Magazine is confounded by a twice-amended death certificate that reported the young mother’s death as a suicide — but was changed by the medical examiner to reflect the manner of death as homicide. Dr. Frederick Hobin also found that the cause of death was a gunshot injury to the spine, caused by another person.
O’Connell died in the home of her estranged boyfriend, 23-year-old deputy sheriff Jeremy H. Banks.
Although a single gunshot fired from Banks’ .45 caliber semi-automatic duty pistol ended her life, a second shot was fired from the weapon. A bruised cut was observed over the victim’s right eye. Neighbors reported hearing one gunshot, a pause, a scream for help, followed by a second gunshot. Banks claimed to have been in his garage during the time of the shooting.
Members of his own department responded to the crime scene which was processed as a suicide — not a homicide. No outside agency was called to collect the evidence or lead the investigation. The same evidence collection protocols and investigative techniques were not followed.
Sheriff David B. Shoar concedes the department was too quick to rule the death a suicide, even though he is entrenched in his opinion that the investigation would have reached the same conclusion either way.
Banks, who was only 19-years-old when he was hired, was never questioned as a suspect. He was extended access, both at the crime scene and at the sheriff’s department, as a witness and member of the law enforcement agency.
O’Connell’s mother, Patty O’Connell, told Historic City News that she feared for the safety of her grandchild after hearing allegations of domestic abuse. She says that is why Michelle told Banks that she was moving out and ending their relationship earlier the night that she was shot.
At the crime scene, many narcotic pain killers, prescribed to Banks, were found in O’Connell’s pocket. Banks’s hands were not swabbed for gunshot residue and there is some dispute over whether he showered — either before he called 9-1-1 or before deputies and emergency medical personnel arrived at his home.
The O’Connell family paid to have the body of Michelle exhumed for an independent forensic examination by a different medical examiner and two dental specialists. Their second autopsy, performed by Orlando pathologist Dr. Bill Anderson on January 12, 2016, revealed that blunt-force trauma fractured O’Connell’s jawbone, incapacitating her before she was shot.
Banks has never been administered a polygraph examination to test for the truthfulness of his account of the events that night. Banks has been able to retain a lawyer, Robert “Mac” McLeod, and his job. Banks has been employed by the sheriff since February 12, 2007 and he is paid $49,677.89 each year. He turned 29-years-old in August and he still carries a gun.
Contributed photo: Catherine Ivey Jones