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St. Johns County Sheriff Shoar says state investigators falsified evidence in attempt to prove apparent suicide was murder

6:32 PM, Mar 28, 2013   |    comments
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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar released a highly critical report Thursday, blasting a state investigation into the 2010 death of a young woman as "atrocious," and accusing the agents who lead the probe of misconduct.

In the 153-page report, the sheriff blasts two Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers, accusing them of acting "recklessly and maliciously" in their probe of the September 2010 death of Michelle O'Connell. The sheriff accuses FDLE Special Agent in Charge Dominic Pape and lead investigative Agent Rusty Rodgers of shoddy work, and even falsifying reports in an attempt to prove that Michelle was murdered.

"It has always been my practice not to discuss or critique the actions and/or conduct of another law enforcement agency. I am departing from this practice in regards to FDLE's involvement in this case ..." Shoar wrote.

Depart he did. The sheriff even went so far as to question whether the agents' previous work could be trusted. "If SAC Pape and Agent Rodgers would conduct themselves in this fashion where a law enforcement officer was involved," he wrote, "what has happened in their past cases where  they caused the prosecution of our citizens?"

The Michelle O'Connell case has troubled St. Johns County law enforcement from the night of Sept. 2, 2010, when the 24-year-old mother of one was found dead from a gunshot wound. Her boyfriend, St. Johns County Deputy Jeremy Banks, was the only other person in the house the night of her death. As he later told investigators, the couple had been drinking and fighting the night she died. Moments before the fatal shot, Michelle was packing to leave.

The fact that Banks was a deputy complicated the case, but so did several other factors. The St. Johns County Medical Examiner who initially ruled Michelle's death a suicide changed his mind, and said it was homicide. The gun used to kill Michelle was the gun Deputy Jeremy Banks used at work each day - but carried none of his fingerprints or DNA.

And as First Coast News exclusively reported in August, the Sheriff's Office didn't turn the investigation over to an outside agency -- FDLE -- for four months.

At the time, Sheriff's Office spokesperson Chuck Mulligan told First Coast News that the agency had been torn apart by the case. Not only was Banks a deputy, but the time of Michelle's death, her mother was a sheriff's office administrative employee, and her brother was a deputy.

"In my 25 years in the sheriff's office, I've never seen a case with as many people involved and as many experts involved -- and still have questions in the end," Mulligan told First Coast News.
Whether those questions are finally put to rest by this report is not clear. The sheriff says he will not be comfortable working with the FDLE agents in the future. Calls to the FDLE seeking comment were not returned. The O'Connell family has declined comment.  

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