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Woman pleads guilty to 1990 murder of a Florida mother while dressed as a clown

Sheila Keen-Warren trial
Posted at 10:09 PM, Apr 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-27 22:09:25-04

(CNN) — Three decades after a woman in Florida was fatally shot by a person dressed as a clown, the longtime suspect — who went on to marry the victim's widower — has pleaded guilty even as her lawyers maintain she is innocent.

Sheila Keen-Warren, 59, withdrew her earlier plea of not guilty and entered a guilty plea on Tuesday as part of a plea deal with prosecutors just weeks before the case was set to go to trial.

She pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the May 1990 killing of Marlene Warren, who was shot and killed at her home near West Palm Beach, Florida, as her son and his friends were eating breakfast inside.

On the morning of the killing, Warren answered her door to find someone dressed as clown and clutching two balloons and a flower arrangement. The costumed person handed Warren the gifts and then pulled out a gun and shot her in the face, authorities said.

Warren died in a hospital two days later.

Twenty-seven years after the killing, Keen-Warren, who had since married Marlene Warren's widowed husband, was arrested and charged with the crime in 2017.

As part of her plea deal, Warren will be sentenced to 12 years in prison, with credit for the time she has been serving since her arrest.

The victim's son approved the plea terms, prosecutor Reid Scott said in court.

"After years of professing her innocence, Sheila Keen Warren has finally been forced to admit that she was the one who dressed as a clown and took the life of an innocent victim," State Attorney for Palm Beach County Dave Aronberg said in statement.

Keen-Warren's attorney, however, told CNN that she maintains her innocence but is happy with the plea terms.

"This woman should never have been arrested or prosecuted," her attorney Greg Rosenfeld said, "She was looking forward to her day in court."

Ultimately, Rosenfeld said, the plea deal was the best available option to Keen-Warren. "You never know what could happen in trial," he said.

If the case had gone to trial, Scott said in part in court, evidence submitted by prosecutors "would lead a jury to find her guilty of the crime."

When asked by the judge if she agreed with the prosecutor's statements, Keen-Warren replied, "Yes, sir."

Keen-Warren married victim's husband

When detectives were first investigating the case, they heard rumors that the victim's husband, Michael Warren, was having an affair with Sheila Keen, but the pair denied being in a relationship at the time, authorities said in 2017.

Twelve years after his late wife's killing, Michael Warren married Sheila Keen, now Keen-Warren, authorities said.

Though Keen-Warren had long been a suspect in the case, evidence available in 1990 was just not strong enough to secure a conviction, investigators said at the time of her arrest.

A major break didn't come until 2014, when the the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office cold case unit reopened the investigation and were able to use advancements in DNA technology to strengthen their evidence, the office said.