For six years, Michelle O'Connell's family has sought what they say is their only chance at justice in her mysterious death in Florida

By Devan Stuart Lesley
December 28, 2016 09:00 AM
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Michelle O’Connell
Source: Facebook

Police say a St. Augustine, Florida, woman killed herself with her boyfriend’s gun six years ago — but her relatives say they have proof she was murdered. Subscribe to PEOPLE now or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday, for more on this case.

For six years, Michelle O’Connell’s family has sought what they say is their only chance at justice in her mysterious death.

Authorities say the once-vivacious young mother fatally shot herself on Sept. 2, 2010, but her relatives disagree. Instead, they allege, she was killed by her boyfriend, Jeremy Banks, a local sheriff’s deputy — which he denies and for which investigators say there is no probable cause.

Now O’Connell’s family is pushing a last-ditch effort for a state inquest into her death, following a second autopsy of her remains.

“Our family is not going to be quiet,” O’Connell’s mother, Patty O’Connell, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.

It was Banks who, at 11:20 p.m. that September day, called 911 from the St. Augustine, Florida, home he shared with Michelle. He told the operator, “My girlfriend — I think she just shot herself.”

Responders found Michelle, 24, lying on a bedroom floor with a gunshot wound to the back of her throat. Banks’ service weapon was at her side.

Two days after Michelle died, St. Johns County Medical Examiner Dr. Frederick Hobin ruled her manner of death a suicide, though he later reclassified it as a homicide. A special prosecutor’s investigator found no evidence of homicide, however, and the case was closed in March 2012 as a suicide.

Then, earlier this year, Orlando pathologist Dr. William Anderson was asked by Michelle’s family to perform a post-exhumation autopsy on her body — and he found she had a broken lower jaw bone never mentioned in Hobin’s reports.

“The most reasonable explanation is that a hit in the jaw with a fist created the mandible fracture,” Anderson tells PEOPLE.

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Michelle’s relatives say she had no history of depression and would never have left her young daughter, Alexis. Michelle’s friends say she was planning to leave Banks before she died, though his attorney points to the same conclusion drawn by “three separate state attorneys”: Michelle killed herself.

Authorities also stand firm in that finding. “The information presented is nothing new and all was reviewed during the initial autopsy,” St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar said in a statement, dismissing the continuing controversy as “a few family members who will go to any lengths to maintain their moment in the spotlight.”

However unlikely, Michelle’s family wants the case reopened and a grand jury convened.

“This is not going to go away,” Patty O’Connell says.