ABC 20/20: Michelle O’Connell – suicide or homicide


Suicide or homicide? That question still lingers for Michelle O’Connell’s family and friends nearly eight years after she was shot inside her boyfriend’s St. Augustine home and died. Historic City News readers will be watching “20/20” when it airs on Friday, April 13 (10:01-11:00 p.m. EDT), on ABC.

On September 2, 2010, Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Banks called 911 saying he found Michelle shot inside his home. Although police quickly determined it was a suicide, Michelle’s friends and family insisted that she would not take her own life.  Her family alleges she was killed by Banks, her boyfriend, but the sheriff’s department maintains that she committed suicide.

At the request of Michelle’s family, her body was exhumed, and an outside forensics expert conducted a second autopsy which concluded that Michelle’s death was a homicide.  Authorities, however, still maintain she took her own life. ABC News’ Ryan Smith investigates the controversy and reports on developments in the case, including Banks’ civil suit against a state investigator that was dismissed last month.

Firearms expert Peter Diaczuk demonstrates where shell casings could have fallen depending on Michelle’s position when she was shot, which also questions the official findings that Michelle shot herself.

The hour also features interviews with Michelle’s family, including sister Chrissy O’Connell, mother Patty O’Connell and brother Sean O’Connell; Mindy Fox, Michelle’s friend; Teresa Woodward, Michelle’s former employer; Anne Schindler, reporter who covered the case extensively; Dr. William Anderson, the forensic pathologist who provided the second autopsy for the family; Mac McLeod, Jeremy’s attorney; and Debra Maynard, former St. Johns County deputy sheriff.

After pressuring the sheriff’s department to hand the case over to an outside investigator, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) stepped in and spoke with family and friends who said they believed Banks was responsible. They claimed the couple’s relationship was abusive and that it became violent the night Michelle died as she was packing up to leave.

The FDLE also uncovered new witnesses, and its investigation pointed toward homicide. Still, the state attorney said they had no criminal case against Banks. In his autopsy, Dr. Anderson discovered that Michelle’s jaw had been broken prior to her death. His report to the family states that she was first attacked and incapacitated, and then shot and killed by someone else; but the official cause of death remains suicide.

Following the FDLE investigation, Banks filed a civil lawsuit against that outside investigator, alleging his civil rights had been violated. But late last month, the case was dismissed.

Banks has never been charged and maintains he was not involved in Michelle’s death. “20/20” is anchored by Elizabeth Vargas and David Muir. David Sloan is senior executive producer.

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