COVER STORY

MURDER, HE WROTE: A MAN NAMED CLU INVESTIGATES THE DEATH OF MICHELLE O’ CONNELL

A Clay County private eye thinks he solved the controversial mystery of the St. Augustine woman’s supposed suicide.

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Clu Wright is a man of constant motion. 

He talks in such a rush of such accelerated commotion, it’s hard to take in all of his words. His hands chop and dice the air like a Ronco Veg-O-Matic. His legs jiggle and bob. Asked to repeat a sentence, he launches into a variation on the theme. Asked again, he does it again. When I comment on how hyper he is, he tells me he’s slowed down as he’s aged. He used to be hyper, he says. He’s not making a joke.

The 51-year-old, with a silver moustache and goatee and close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, retired as Clay County Fire Marshal in 2012, but he’s still active. He’s a part-time paramedic for Putnam County. He ran (unsuccessfully) for the Clay County Commission this year as a true Republican conservative who’d do away with development impact fees for schools. And he became a licensed private investigator and launched a company, Clu Wright’s Investigations.

On an early October morning, he offered to make the 54-mile drive from Keystone Heights to Jacksonville to meet with me. He was here in about 20 minutes. He had something very important to communicate. He’d spent five months reviewing the ostensible suicide of 24-year-old St. Augustine woman Michelle O’Connell, and he’d produced a 92-page report about it. He wanted to share it with the world.

O’Connell — as you may know, because this case has generated considerable controversy and media attention — died Sept. 2, 2010, from a single gunshot wound to the head in the master bedroom of the home she shared with her then-23-year-old boyfriend, St. Johns County Sheriff’s deputy Jeremy Banks. She was packing to leave him. The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, three medical examiners, a state attorney, a special prosecutor and Jeremy Banks himself have all said that O’Connell killed herself with Banks’ gun.

Wright thinks that’s bullshit. Only, as a good, Bible-believing Christian, he wouldn’t use that kind of language.

Here are Wright’s conclusions, in four short sentences: 1) Jeremy Banks murdered Michelle O’Connell. 2) The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office knows it. 3) The evidence proves it. 4) No one’s going to do anything about it.

He’s not alone in doubting the official story. A year ago, in November 2013, The New York Times published the results of a nine-month investigation into O’Connell’s death, “Two Gunshots on a Summer Night,” by three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Walt Bogdanich and Glenn Silber, which cast serious doubt on the suicide narrative and the SJSO’s willingness and ability to investigate one of its own — and in the process angered Sheriff David Shoar, who continues to stand by his deputy. (The story also upset the St. Augustine Record, which fretted about whether The Ancient City was “a victim of big media parachuting into a small town and just getting the pulse wrong.”)

Wright saw the accompanying PBS Frontline documentary, A Death in St. Augustine, and felt compelled to get involved.

“I knew something wasn’t right, so I pulled everything I could think of to get on it,” he says.

And when he reviewed photographs of the death scene taken by evidence technicians, he saw something he thought was big, something important, something he says the cops had missed, something state crime investigators had missed, something that he believes could crack the case wide open.

He saw a T-shirt.

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laughable

While a story without a lot of facts is great fiction and makes great fan fare that is truly all that is here. Very little substance just speculation by someone not qualified to investigate a death case, much like Agent Rodgers.

Clu Wright started his investigation (I use that word very loosely since he has NO LE training or experience) because "I knew something wasn't right." So he comes into this immediately with prejudice.

He reviews a few pictures and now he has everything solved in his eyes. The only thing that is "Bullshit" is Mr. Wright. So far all he has submitted or penned is a biased opinion based on some pictures. He has not solved anything just added his opinion. He appears to think very highly of himself but in reality should stick to fire investigations because generally death investigations require experience and specific training to know what you are doing not just a big case of self promotion and inflated ego.

These kinds of speculations don't change the fact that the injury was a self inflicted wound by Ms. O'Connell wrapping her lips around the gun. Her hands were covered in gunshot residue. Ms. O'Connell had a fighter personality as evidenced by prior Domestic Violence arrest with her family, she would have had more injuries than one scratch if she was fighting with someone. She had a history of mental illness and was sending messages on her phone that read like someone in crisis, a digital suicide note.

Thursday, November 20, 2014|Report this

Jmathis

I believe there are a lot of facts to this story - one of the biggest is how the crime scene & Mr. Banks were handled during this investigation. Even more outlandish is the fact that so much evidence was not collected or simply discarded. Further the SJSO investigated one of their own regarding a death investigation, not done with professional law enforcement agencies. The Sheriff's Office was more concerned about damage control as a result of a sloppy investigation rather than conducting the investigation itself.

There seems to be a lot of animosity towards anyone who has the balls to call this investigation a sham; an investigation that leaves a family without answers - had the crime scene been properly processed & the investigation conducted by an outside professional agency - the O'Connell's would have an answer regarding the death of Michelle.

As far as discrediting Clu Wright & his credentials, I would be more concerned about the department that ran this initial investigation & the Sheriff who stands behind the inept answers it produced.

"Laughable", your dissertation sounds assumptive as well. Her texts may have been out of fear of Jeremy who had a history of violence with her & her injury a result of someone shoving a gun in her mouth.

I am hoping the next step, an outside Circuit looking at the case, will bring some peace to the family - something the SJSO seems unable & unwilling to do.

Saturday, November 22, 2014|Report this

laughable

Ms.Mathis,

While you can complain about the investigation the issues that the Sheriff has talked about doesn't change the outcome. The gunshot residue on her hands could never have been planted. The fact that Ms. O'Connell still had a heartbeat is MEDICAL FACT that they now how long a body lives after such an injury, so there was NOT time for for Mr. Banks to have done anything that has been speculated. Also as far as agencies investigating their own, that happens ALL the time with larger agencies. Facts are that SJSO is much more prepared to investigate a death case than FDLE.

While screaming for an outside investigation is the beat of Ms. O'Connell's family. There has been or will be when the current investigation done, 3 State Attorney Offices look at this, 3.medical examiners. While it seems to be popular to question many things related to government and everything is not always perfect, in this case, that facts don't change. Ms. O'Connell shot herself in the mouth. To say the smallcut, mark or above her eye is a defensive wound is rediculious. It could have never ocures from her haste to put the gun in her mouth after she fired the first round into the floor.

Unfortunately there are always question WHY someone kills themselves. People do it all the time for unknown reasons, leaving the family stunned. Just look at Robin Williams. Ms. O'Connell has had and may have currently been having mental issues (most people need constant care for depression issues). This sad but the only thing Mr. Banks is guilty of is being at home when Ms. O'Connell decided.to end her life..

Saturday, November 22, 2014|Report this

ClaraW

So, "LAUGHABLE," you were there on the night of Sept. 2, 2010 and witnessed the shooting? Your posts so indicate. If so, it is past time for you to come forward and present your eye-witness account to SJCSO, FDLE, State Attorney Jeff Ashton -- and while you are at it, the FBI. You are withholding evidence, at least according to all the folderol in your posts.

Mr. Clu Wright is a licensed private investigator. He used to reassemble, with attention to meticulous detail, fires -- arson and nonarson. Perhaps his creds don't satisfy YOU, but so what? He FOUND new evidence, in photo form, that shows Banks shot Michelle in the mouth after he stuffed a tee-shirt down her throat to prevent blood spatter associated with such a head injury. In addition, the photos show someone from SJOSO moved a blanket to COVER Michelle's suitcase -- she was leaving him. This is the most dangerous time for an abused woman (and it is well-documented that Jeremy Banks physically and emotionally abused her throughout their relationship), when she takes control and tells her abuser good-bye.

Your attempts to minimize Mr. Wright's findings and his abilities are exactly the tactics Jeremy's legal mouthpiece uses. Discredit, or try to discredit those who disagree with him and his client, by weak and lazy commentary. Ho-hum. What else ya got? NOTHING that resembles FACTS.

What you see in this crime is law-enforcement domestic violence. The Sheriff's Office knew all about it. The Blue Wall (forget "Line") has formed around Sheriff David Shoar. Whether it is now, this year, or sometime in the future, Michelle O'Connell's death WILL BE RULED HOMICIDE. The FACTS tell it. This massive cover-up cannot and will not last forever.

Yet you, "LAUGHABLE," choose to condemn a dead woman AND her still-grieving family, saying she had a "fighter mentality"??? NO. Michelle O'Connell had a SURVIVOR MENTALITY and she was leaving her abuser. She would have more "scratches"? Look at the differences in their sizes. It would take Jeremy one hand to subdue Michelle after punching her above the eye (yes, you left a mark unexplainable by the weapon that recoils forward) and stuff the tee shirt in her mouth and fire -- twice.

YOU are deluded, cruel, and vicious. IF, and I mean IF, Jeremy Banks didn't shoot Michelle to death, then WHY your rush to condemn this story, Mr. Wright's review and analysis, comments here, and post your soul-sucking lies? It is because ALL of Shoar supporters have something HUGE to hide.

JUSTICE will be served. I hope everyone of you involved is prepared. Saturday, November 22, 2014|Report this

laughable

Clara

I question Mr. Wright's qualifications, yes I do. I also never said I was there that night, so please hold your tantrum. The fact also remains that MANY people with alot of experience have examined this case. While there will be questions in ANY suicide, most have been explained and only Ms.O'Connell could answer some of them. You seem to have the scene all figured out, so please step forward for Mr. Aston, I am sure he can use your help... I only know what is in the official report. I won respond to you again or on this story again. I am sure Mr. Wright has solved this case by looking at some pictures, that is sarcasm...

Oh and there doesn't seem to be any recorded or even alleged report of ANY domestic violence except for Ms. O'Connell's arrest as a juvenile. Of course, after her death the family as alleged ALOT of things... Saturday, November 22, 2014|Report this

ClaraW

laughable wrote:

Clara

I question Mr. Wright's qualifications, yes I do. I also never said I was there that night, so please hold your tantrum. The fact also remains that MANY people with alot of experience have examined this case. While there will be questions in ANY suicide, most have been explained and only Ms.O'Connell could answer some of them. You seem to have the scene all figured out, so please step forward for Mr. Aston, I am sure he can use your help... I only know what is in the official report. I won respond to you again or on this story again. I am sure Mr. Wright has solved this case by looking at some pictures, that is sarcasm...

Oh and there doesn't seem to be any recorded or even alleged report of ANY domestic violence except for Ms. O'Connell's arrest as a juvenile. Of course, after her death the family as alleged ALOT of things...

~~~~~

Laughable,

You're a guy, right? In fact, I am pretty sure I know who you are. You always make the same error when you post about this subject: It is "AsHton," NOT "Aston."

So, I'm having a "tantrum" by responding to your egregious post. How typical of your ilk and one with your affiliations. Deflect, deflect, deflect. You are fooling no one.

Yes, indeedy, those highly qualified people who have examined the case have been coerced by Shoar into keeping the first responders' wholly unprofessional response in line. They took Jeremy's word that Michelle committed suicide -- and never questioned that! They never treated the crime scene as a possible homicide. They NEVER RULED OUT HOMICIDE. Shoddy, pathetic -- and they've ALL kept the lies going. Too late now to recant. That won't change the FACTS, however.

And WHY wasn't Sheriff David Shoar there, at a shooting at one of his deputy's homes?

If you've read the "official reports," then you've read all the lies and fudging.

If you've read the FDLE report, then you'll know Banks admitted to Rodgers THREE TIMES that he (Banks) was guilty. THAT is why the lawsuits against Rodgers.

You can try with all your Mighty Mouse Might to spin this every way you can away from the truth. But the truth WILL prevail. Example: Why didn't any of your "highly qualified" specialists notice the tee-shirt with congealed blood around what looks to be a bullet hole? Why didn't any of your "highly qualified" specialists realize the casings and weapon were on the WRONG side of Michelle's body -- or that someone covered her suitcase with a blanket to hide it from further photos? It goes on and on and on.

You can catch The Dr. Phil show online. He has some very interesting things to say about the TOTAL LACK OF MICHELLE'S SUICIDAL PATHOLOGY. No matter how many times your repugnant group of liars says it, Michelle was not suicidal. She was fleeing for her life. She wanted to start a new life WITHOUT Jeremy. She had a new full-time job, with health benefits. She had her then 4-yr-old daughter. Michelle wanted to LIVE.

All the cover-up possible by the SJCSO won't be enough.

Trying to deflect guilt by slandering the family won't be enough.

JUSTICE FOR MICHELLE O'CONNELL.

Saturday, November 22, 2014|Report this

Mariered88

I am just confused on why she would be packing to move if she was just going to commit suicide. Thursday, January 15, 2015|Report this

Survivor235

I learned many years ago that when you choose to leave an abuser you are at the greatest risk of the whole relationship. I totally understand those text messages that Michelle sent that night. She was trying to escape and hoping he would leave her alone in the future if she didn't involve other people. I hope justice is done but that will be difficult with so much of the evidence destroyed. Thursday, January 15, 2015|Report this

Acheron219

Interesting to see the all too common arrogance of hotheaded cops on here. The ACLU is coming for you. When the general public starts turning against you For your out of control behavior, you're in trouble. Theres good cops out there, but theres so many, too many out there who love the power trip and wield justice at their Discretion and bias. Cops, in this country in particular, are allowed to carry and use weapons in one of the world's most peaceful societies. I don't blame the guns, i blame the cops. I carry a presumption of guilt on an officer when they are involved in a deadly shooting. That is the burden they carry for that right and in some ways this clown in st. Augustine should have been held to a corollary standard. Tuesday, May 12, 2015|Report this

4Justice

@Laughable....You say the gunshot residue allegedly found on her hand couldn't have been faked? Well hold on to your hat, yes, it could have been. There were two gunshots, Jeremy Banks after killing Michelle could have held the gun in Michelle's hand and fired the second shot to get the gunshot residue on her hand and in the history of suicides when has a right handed person ever shot themselves with the left hand? Monday, June 15, 2015|Report this

Indaba

Laughable, there are many things about this case that are laughable, her homicide is not one of them. The fact that that retard medical examiner is still employed is laughable, Did you see him try to unholster the weapon? Justice takes a long time in the states, but usually works, that punk did it and he will pay. A lot of heads should roll over this and once the FDLE get involved again I am sure they will and justly so. Wednesday, January 13, 2016|Report this

Indaba

yeah SJSO is more qualified than FDLE , now thats Laughable for sure............... Wednesday, January 13, 2016|Report this