Killer Clown Cold Case Heads to Trial

October 15, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

A murder case from 1990 is heading to trial in the upcoming weeks. Once a cold case, the “Clown Killer” murder of Marlene Warren is now finally set to go to the courtroom after getting postponed multiple times due to COVID-19.

We will provide information on the original cold case, the DNA evidence that helped reopen the case, and details on the defense team’s most recent motions for the trial.

Details from the Cold Case

On May 26th, 1990, Marlene Warren had been eating breakfast with her 22-year-old son and his friends in the family’s kitchen in Wellington, Florida when she heard a knock on the door. There was a white Chrysler LeBaron parked out front, and a woman dressed as a clown approaching the door with a bouquet of flowers and some balloons.

Marlene answered the door to the clown, commenting, “how nice” about the arrangement. Suddenly her son and his friends heard the sound of a gunshot. Marlene had been shot in the face, and the clown calmly walked back to the car and drove away. Marlene died in the hospital two days later.

Sheila Keen had been a suspect in the shooting for some time, mainly because she later married Marlene’s widow, Michael Warren. However, years passed before an arrest was made. Sheila previously worked for Michael, and the two got together after Marlene’s death and moved to Tennessee.

The case went cold for over 20 years, up until 2014 when the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit reopened the homicide investigation. The unit contacted the witnesses again and conducted a new DNA analysis.

After the authorities learned about Sheila marrying Michael through the investigation, there was probable cause established that linked Sheila to the murder. Additionally, new DNA evidence was provided in the form of a piece of fiber found on the balloons, which helped link the shooting to Sheila Keen-Warren.

On August 31st, 2017, the prosecution presented the case to a grand jury, who then issued a warrant for Sheila Keen-Warren. Less than a month later, on September 26th, 2017, Sheila was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Sheila was initially facing the death penalty; however, in 2020 the prosecution announced they would not be seeking capital punishment. The trial was pushed back multiple times due to COVID-19, but should begin within the next few weeks.

Motion Filed by Defense Team

In the beginning of October, 2022, Sheila’s defense team filed a motion requesting Judge Scott Suskauer to require that the state, “search for and turn over all information” from the 1999 internal audit of the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office’s evidence room.

The defense is claiming that the key source of forensic evidence—a piece of fiber found at the crime scene ‘mysteriously’ appeared. Defense attorneys Greg Rosenfeld and Amy Morse wrote the following for the motion:

“This fiber is the only forensic evidence from the crime scene. For 23 years, this evidence was packaged and unpackaged, viewed by several people in various agencies, and processed, yet apparently, this six-to-eight-inch fiber went unnoticed. Not a single detective, crime scene investigator, or crime lab analyst saw this mysterious fiber.”

The court filing from the defense attorneys argued that the internal audit from Nov. 10th, 1999 had multiple issues from the unit, including that the “evidence bags were not always sealed properly.” They also claimed that during the May deposition, Palm Beach County Sheriff Detective Paige McCann “appeared confused about the audit report and testified that she had made no effort to investigate it.”

“To be clear, over a year after learning that the evidence in this case may have been contaminated, Detective McCann did absolutely nothing,” Rosenfeld and Morse wrote. “She willfully turned a blind eye to evidence that could exculpate Ms. Keen-Warren, or at the very least, aid in her defense.”

The defense team is claiming that the prosecutors should have learned of the favorable evidence known to the other individuals acting for the state. “This favorable evidence—i.e., evidence that PBSO had improperly stored evidence in this case (and other cases)—would necessarily aid Ms. Keen-Warren in presenting a defense,” the defendant’s attorneys wrote.

Additionally, the defense is questioning even how the fiber evidence was found on the balloon ribbon:

“In 1990, the fiber was not on the balloon ribbon. In 1999, the county auditor found open bags of evidence in this case. In 2013, Ms. Sowards miraculously discovered a fiber on the balloon ribbons, which was not there 23 years earlier. Now, the state intends on arguing that the fiber from the balloon ribbons is consistent with originating from the same source as a fiber allegedly found at Ms. Keen-Warren’s apartment and a fiber allegedly found in a white Lebaron. In other words, the state intends on using this evidence to place Ms. Keen-Warren at the crime scene.”

Tensions Rise with Upcoming Trial

The series of last-minute motions from the defense team has allegedly tested the patience of Judge Scott Suskauer. On October 11th, 2022, the judge gave a sharp rebuke to Keen-Warren’s attorneys.

Considering that Keen-Warren has already had the trial delayed at least six times—due to the pandemic among other reasons—the judge told the defense team that the time to file motions has passed. However, the defense has already filed several motions prior to the upcoming trial, and claim there are more to follow.

The trial is set to begin on October 21st, 2022.

Explaining First-Degree Murder in Florida

Under Florida Statute section 782.04  murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being. First-Degree murder occurs when the offense is believed to have been either premeditated or occurred during the commission of a felony. Premeditation occurs when the crime has been planned ahead of time. There is no specific time frame under Florida law specifying when the premeditation must be formed linking the intent to kill and the actual killing. However, the alleged suspect must have had enough time to reflect on their actions.

For the prosecution to prove that the defendant committed a premeditated first-degree murder, they must be able to prove that:

  • The victim is dead
  • The death was caused by the criminal act of the defendant
  • The murder was premeditated, or pre-planned

First-degree murder is considered a capital felony in Florida. This means the state can pursue the death penalty. If the death penalty is not given unanimously as a sentence, then the defendant would be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Another form of first-degree murder is felony murder. Felony murder is when the alleged homicide occurs during the commission or attempted commission of another qualifying felony. 

To learn more about Murder, you can visit our blog here.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Violent crimes have extremely harsh consequences in the state of Florida. Getting convicted of premeditated murder has one of the most severe penalties—life imprisonment without possibility of parole, or capital punishment. If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, it is imperative to seek out legal help from a skilled defense attorney in Tallahassee. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience representing clients across the state for various criminal charges. Contact us today for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave us an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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