BRADENTON BEACH – Despite claims of murder on the Dr. Phil show last week, the 2009 death of Sheena Morris in a Bradenton Beach hotel room remains, for now, a suicide.
Bradenton Beach police found Morris, 22, hanging from a dog leash tied to a showerhead at the BridgeWalk resort on New Year’s Day, after hotel guests called 911 and reported an overnight disturbance in the room she shared with her Tampa boyfriend, Joseph Genoese.
Genoese was not charged in the case.
Police determined the death to be a suicide, but Morris’ mother, Kelly Osborn, and her father, Dave Morris, told Dr. Phil they believe their daughter was murdered by Genoese.
Genoese took a polygraph test for the show and failed it.
That doesn’t change the Bradenton Beach Police Department’s determination of suicide, Chief Sam Speciale said.
Speciale said he and Detective Lenard Diaz, who investigated the case, declined an invitation to appear on the program, and that he did not plan to watch it.
“Unless they come up with new physical evidence and not a polygraph, nothing is going to deviate me from the task of doing the FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) recommendations,” said Speciale, adding that that 60 Minutes and 48 Hours also have called for interviews. “Going to a reality show isn’t going to change the fact we have to do these tasks.”
The procedural tasks, which Speciale has not detailed, were recommended by FDLE’s Specialized Multi Agency Review Team (SMART) after Osborn’s repeated requests that FDLE revisit the case in light of information she obtained from investigators she hired that the suicide scene may have been staged.
Diaz met with FDLE staff twice last week to work on completing the tasks, Speciale said.
In a message that Speciale wrote to the Dr. Phil show that was posted on the program’s website, he explained that the SMART team has reviewed the facts and evidence from the crime scene, including photos, 911 calls, medical examiner’s reports and law enforcement reports.
He wrote, “Then on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, we met with F.D.L.E., which at that time they presented us with the S.M.A.R.T. forensic and investigative suggestions for this case. We are in the process of prioritizing these suggestions and with the assistance of F.D.L.E. are evaluating each suggestion. We have felt comfortable prior to and after the S.M.A.R.T. was convened regarding our original findings and plan on acting on all suggestions submitted by the S.M.A.R.T. We will then resubmit the case to the State Attorney’s Office for their review. Note: Due to the case being administratively opened, we are unable to disclose any of the suggestions at this time.”
Claims that the police department reopened the case to reinvestigate it are not true, he said.
“We never reopened the case. We left it administratively open so we could do the recommendations,” most of which are procedural, he said.
On the Dr. Phil program Thursday and Friday, Genoese said that he believed his girlfriend was suicidal in the days leading up to her death.
“She told me that she tried to commit suicide when she was 15 years old” with pills and vodka, he said, and that she had spent three days in bed over the Christmas holiday until he persuaded her to get up and go to her mother’s house for Christmas.
Genoese said Morris also was having problems with Osborn, her mother, and had blown up when he called his son to wish him Happy New Year’s the night of her death.
“If you thought she was suicidal, why would you leave her alone stranded on an island in a hotel after a fight with you?” Dr. Phil asked him.
Genoese said he feared their late-night argument, which included banging on walls, may have prompted a phone call from hotel guests to the police, and he did not want to be arrested. The couple also had snuck two dogs into the hotel room, he said.
The 911 call from the neighbors, played on the program, mentioned loud noises.
Genoese said he suggested they leave the hotel, and Morris refused. He broke up with her, left, drove home to Tampa, spoke to some people who saw him at his home and went to bed, he said.
Morris made a 911 call, too, to say she was afraid her boyfriend took her keys and would wreck her home, that he had scratched her and she had taken photos and that she was stranded at the hotel without a car or money.
Genoese said he texted her several times, reiterating that he was done with the relationship.”
She was found dead the next day.
Genoese told Dr. Phil he was tired of being accused of being a murderer on Osborn’s website, www.justice4sheena.com, and that Osborn called Genoese’s current girlfriend to tell her she and her children are in danger.
Osborne responded that she has a disclaimer on the website stating the family is not calling him a murderer. She also admitted she called his girlfriend after suggesting that his girlfriend had approached her first.
The key to the mystery?
In an audience teaser, Dr. Phil held up a key in an evidence-type plastic bag and suggested it could unlock the mystery of her death, but it fell far short.
Osborn said the hotel clerk told her the couple had checked out two keys, and that Genoese could have gotten back into the room after he left. One key was in Sheena’s purse, she said, and “the second showed up on our kitchen counter after Joe told detectives he didn’t have a key.”
Genoese said he didn’t remember what happened, as it was three years ago.
Jan Johnson, the crime scene analyst hired by Morris’ parents, told Dr. Phil she was suspicious of the evidence that Morris had sand on her feet but no sand was in the shower or on the floor of the hotel room.
“If she walked into the shower, some would have come off onto the floor,” she said, adding that the position of her clothing was wrong for a hanging death and that the dog leash around her neck would not have supported the weight of her body.
She was critical of the police investigation, concluding that the scene had been staged.
A friend of Morris’ told Dr. Phil he had once witnessed the couple fighting and that Genoese had pulled a gun from his belt.
Genoese responded that sometimes he carried a gun, but had a concealed weapons permit and didn’t recall pulling the gun out during that incident.
He also answered an accusation by Osborn that he had given Morris a piece of glass instead of a diamond engagement ring, which she discovered when she had her daughter’s body exhumed and removed the jewelry for testing.
Genoese said Morris knew he couldn’t afford a diamond and he had told her the ring was glass.
Osborn questioned why her daughter had a conversation with her about whether the ring was real.
More unanswered questions
The two-day look at the case left some viewers unsatisfied, according to more than 200 responses on the program’s website.
Many expressed frustration with police work, such as the person who commented, “Is this the only hotel in America that does not have surveillance cameras everywhere?” and the blogger who wondered why no mention was made of pinging Genoese’s cell phone records or measuring how far he traveled by checking his gasoline receipts and his car gauge.
Others criticized the program for bringing up questions and leaving them unanswered, such as Johnson’s comment about the dog leash not being strong enough to support a suicide by hanging.
“Well then how could the leash be strong enough to have been strung up by an angry man with a dead body?” one viewer wrote.
The polygraph test
Dr. Phil dramatically revealed the results of the polygraph test Genoese agreed to take for the program, saying, “Your polygraph asked, “Did you kill Sheena?” That answer was… deceptive.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Genoese said. “I don’t know if this is good for TV or what, but… I went home that night, I was there all night, people saw me there. I would never do anything like what you guys are trying to say.”
Dr. Phil snapped back that he resented the implication that the polygraph was a TV gimmick.
“Kelly,” Genoese addressed Osborn, “I didn’t murder Sheena, and we really just need to do another polygraph.”
He said he had been nervous at the test.
Everyone’s nervous during a polygraph test, polygraph technician Jack Trimarco said, adding he had told Genoese not to take the test if he couldn’t pass it.
“But you’re either lying or you’re telling the truth,” he said.
“But I told the truth,” Genoese said.
The test is not admissible in court and is about 90 percent reliable, Dr. Phil said.
“You know whether you’ve done this or not. If you have, you need to own it and if you’ve not, you need to do what you need to to prove your innocence.”
He had a word for Osborn too.
“My advice is step back and let the process work and let the professionals do their jobs,” he said. “You fought the good fight, and your daughter must be very, very proud of you.”