Friends and relatives of Michelle O’Connell gathered at her graveside Monday in St. Augustine on what would have been her 29th birthday. They released purple balloons into the sky – a message of love that they hoped would reach O’Connell in heaven.
They also celebrated O’Connell’s life. They remembered that she loved going to beach. They said she enjoyed simple pleasures, like the smell of sunflowers. She adored her daughter, Alexis.
She was a “fun-loving person,” said Ciara Morris, who was O’Connell’s best friend.
O’Connell died of a gunshot wound to the head in 2010. Her friends don’t believe it was a suicide and point to O’Connell’s former boyfriend, Jeremy Banks.
Banks, a St. Johns County sheriff’s deputy, has denied shooting O’Connell. His boss, Sheriff David Shoar, supports Banks and cites three separate medical examiner’s reports ruling the death a suicide.
O’Connell’s relatives say the sheriff’s office botched the initial investigation.
Shoar has denied that and has posted more than two dozen documents and reports about the case on the sheriff’s website so that people can read the material and come to their own conclusions.
“This is a tragic case with many complexities,” Shoar wrote on the website.
O’Connell’s friends and relatives aren’t giving up and say they’ll continue pushing for justice. They say they are encouraged by the latest development: Gov. Rick Scott has ordered that a new prosecutor, Jeffrey Ashton, examine the case.
On Oct. 3, the New York Times reported:
…Governor Scott cited the emergence of a new “potential witness.” The witness was not named. But Ms. O’Connell’s family believes that the reference is to the former owner of a St. Augustine bar, Danny Harmon, who has filed a sworn affidavit saying that the night after Ms. O’Connell died, he served drinks to Mr. Banks.
In the statement, obtained by The Times, Mr. Harmon said he heard Mr. Banks say, “That bitch got what she deserved,” and “I am not going to let her ruin my life.”
Morris said she hopes that the state’s new investigation finally gives the family what they’ve been seeking for four long years: Justice.