O'Connell family honors young mother 4 years after death

Family comforted that Gov. has reopened investigation

Michelle O'Connell

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – On Monday Michelle O'Connell's family remembered the young mother, who died four years ago in a case that remains controversial and has garnered national attention.

Her death was ruled a suicide by multiple agencies, but family members believe she was murdered and a St. Johns County deputy was involved.

O'Connell would have been 29 years old Monday.

Her friends and family gathered at the cemetery to remember her life. They were also thankful that Gov. Rick Scott last week ordered the case to be reopened.

Scott assigned special prosecutor Jeff Ashton, who handled the Casey Anthony case, to look into O'Connell's death.

Family members released balloons Monday, something they said they've done every year since O'Connell's death in 2010.

"It's a hard day. Every year we have to celebrate her birthday without her," said Ciara Morris. "It's not an ideal birthday celebration. But we've had some positive news recently, so it makes it easier to bear."

That news was the fact that Scott has ordered an investigation again.

"There's new evidence. I was asked by the state attorney to do that, so I've asked state attorney Jeff Ashton to review the case," Scott said Monday.

The family has been very vocal, claiming O'Connell's death was not a suicide. Family members said there are inconsistencies in the case, and they believe her boyfriend, Jeremy Banks, who is a deputy with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, had something to do with her death. But several investigations have said otherwise.

The family's attorney said reopening the case is a start.

"You can't get to justice without getting an investigation," Janet Johnson said. "So what the governor did is good. It certainly gave us some encouragement that we are going to get there."

St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar has been adamant that O'Connell's death was a suicide. In a statement on Friday, he said he welcomes the new investigation and is confident the findings will show suicide -- which is what two state attorneys, the first special prosecutor and three medical examiners have found in the past.

The family believes there is much more to be discovered

"We are very pleased that after four long years, we got the nudge in the right direction that we need," Morris said. "We are confident that things will play out. Then we will get justice for Michelle." 

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Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.