A young mother was found in a St. Augustine, Florida, home with a fatal gunshot wound. The authorities ruled it a suicide, but the investigation into Michelle O’Connell’s death has been surrounded by controversy ever since. The circumstances and how the inquiry was handled have been garnering national attention for the past decade. Investigation Discovery’s ‘Citizen P.I.: Sleuths Under Fire’ chronicles how two private citizens started to look into Michelle’s death. So, let’s find out more about this case then, shall we?
How Did Michelle O’Connell Die?
Michelle was a 24-year-old single mother to a daughter, Alexis. She was described as a driven woman who did everything to take care of her daughter. After working multiple jobs, Michelle had landed a full-time job at a daycare center, and things were looking up for her. She had been in a relationship with Jeremy Banks, a sheriff’s deputy. On the night of September 2, 2010, Jeremy made a disturbing 911 phone call.
At around 11:25 PM, Jeremy called in to say that he found Michelle on the floor and that she might have shot herself. Authorities rushed to his house only to locate Michelle lying face-up on the bedroom floor. She had a gunshot wound to her face, and Jeremy’s service weapon was found on her left-hand side. The authorities also found a second bullet in the carpet by her right arm. The initial ruling by the medical examiner was that it was a suicide. But after additional information came to light, it was amended to being a homicide, although it was never officially filed.
Who Killed Michelle O’Connell?
The investigators learned that Michelle and Jeremy had gone to a concert at a local amphitheater along with Michelle’s brother, Sean, and a couple of other friends. Jeremy was interviewed in a squad car after the incident, and according to him, the couple had argued before, during, and after the concert. They had talked about breaking up while on the way back home, and it seemed like Michelle had decided to end things and was packing things to move out.
Then, Jeremy claimed that he was outside the house with some friends while Michelle stayed in. Once the friends left, he was inside the garage when he heard a pop. By his account, Jeremy rushed inside to find the bedroom door locked, then heard a second gunshot. He said that he kicked the door in to see Michelle on the floor with the wound. But certain inconsistencies were recorded initially. Empty prescription pill bottles in Jeremy’s name were found in Michelle’s purse. The pills were located in Michelle’s pockets.
However, the toxicology report confirmed there were no traces of the pills in Michelle’s system. The young mother’s family staunchly believed that Michelle could not have killed herself. She had made plans to meet friends and was to take CPR classes in the days after her death. She was also excited about the new job. Instead, they believed that Jeremy shot Michelle to death. There were allegations made regarding verbal and physical abuse in the relationship from both partners.
About four months after the death, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducted an independent inquiry into the case. This time, the authorities learned of two neighbors walking outside around the time of Michelle’s death. They claimed to have heard arguing, and then a woman screaming for help before gunshots rang out. When evidence was sent through for testing, they found that there was no blood on the gun. Also, it didn’t have Jeremy’s DNA or fingerprints on it, which struck the authorities as unusual.
Furthermore, Michelle’s DNA was not found on the pill bottles in her purse either. There was some gunshot residue on Jeremy’s hands, but the investigator felt that he might have washed his hands before the test, something Jeremy denied. A cut over Michelle’s right eye was deemed to have occurred before the fatal gunshot wound and could have been caused by the gun. The independent inquiry ended with the investigator believing Michelle’s death to be a homicide. This led the medical examiner to amend the death certificate, but he didn’t officially file it.
But despite the new findings, there were no charges filed against Jeremy because the prosecutor believed there wasn’t enough evidence. About five and a half years after Michelle’s death, the family had an independent pathologist conduct an autopsy on her body. The doctor noticed that Michelle had a fractured jawbone, which could have been caused by blunt force before she was shot. This was not mentioned in the initial autopsy report.
Where is Jeremy Banks Now?
After FDLE’s findings were put forward, Jeremy filed a lawsuit against the investigator, Rusty Rodgers, arguing that his civil rights were violated. However, that suit was dismissed by a federal judge, who ruled that Rusty had probable cause to investigate whether Michelle was murdered. Earlier, Jeremy had also admitted to reading Michelle’s case file maintained by the sheriff’s department. However, Jeremy has maintained his innocence and has never been charged with any crime.
Recent reports have indicated that he still works for the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office in Florida as a deputy. An internal investigation into Rusty’s work later revealed that he exaggerated certain information and excluded details. Two other medical examiners who looked at the case also believed that Michelle had killed herself.
Read More: Where is Michelle O’Connell’s Daughter Now?