Sister: 'So many mistruths' in Michelle O'Connell case

Despite 2 independent reports, sister does not believe 24-year-old killed self

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - Michelle O'Connell died of gunshot wounds five years ago. Two independent reports have ruled her death a suicide. Her sister and other family members still insist that is not what happened.

"My sister did not commit suicide -- 100 percent did not," Jennifer Crites said.

In September 2010, O'Connell was found fatally shot at the home of her boyfriend, St. Johns County Deputy Jeremy Banks. The gun used was his service weapon.

Two independent prosecutors have said her death was a suicide.

But Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigator Rusty Rodgers, whose job is still on the line as a result of the case, believes that the 24-year-old did not die by her own hand.

Rodgers has come under fire for his investigation, which pursued O'Connell's death as a homicide case. The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office wants him investigated, and a scathing report from a state attorney says Rodgers botched the investigation so much that if any new evidence surfaced, it would be hard to prosecute.

FDLE officials said they are still conducting their own probe into Rodgers, who has been on paid leave for three years because of the case. The FDLE internal report on Rodgers is not ready yet.

Crites said Rodgers should be cleared and that the real investigation should be into the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office for what she called sloppy work.

"There are just so many mistruths in this," Crites said.

Crites finds it hard to hold back tears when she thinks of her sister, particularly when she sees crime scene photos of her death. The death investigation still draws national attention as questions remain about whether it was suicide or murder.

"It dredges up a lot of old feelings, but it's worth doing," Crites said of revisiting the case. "It's for my sister, and we love her very much, and we are out to set the record straight, no matter who keeps telling us (differently)."

Crites said that while agencies point fingers at each other, she lays the blame on the Sheriff's Office for not calling for an outside investigation the night of O'Connell's death five years ago because of Banks' involvement with O'Connell.

"We don't have the right answers because that evidence was not collected by the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office the evening of Michelle's death, and they did not recuse themselves from that case," Crites said. "There is bias."

O'Connell's family has been split by the investigation. 

Crites said she is determined to bring the questions to an end, but for now, she doesn't think she can put them aside.

A Sheriff's Office spokesman said there is nothing more to add to O'Connell's case than what three independent investigations have already pointed out. 

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