Sheila Keen-Warren pleads guilty to 1990 murder

Sheila Keen Warren faced a first-degree murder charge in the 1990 slaying of Marlene Warren. Witnesses say the shooter was dressed as a clown.


WEST PALM BEACH — A woman accused of dressing up as a clown and fatally shooting Marlene Warren on her Wellington, Florida doorstep in 1990 pleaded guilty to second-degree murder more than three decades later.

The case was closed on Tuesday when Sheila Keen-Warren accepted a plea deal in the murder of her now-husband’s first wife. Keen-Warren has long been suspected of being the shooter but was free until 2017, when she was arrested after new technology helped investigators link her to DNA found in the clown’s getaway car. 

Keen-Warren will only serve a fraction of the 12-year prison sentence she received as part of the plea deal. Credit for the five-and-a-half years she has spent in jail since her arrest, plus time off for good behavior under the Florida sentencing laws that existed when the crime occurred, will put her in prison for just 16 months, defense attorney Greg Rosenfeld said. 

State Attorney Dave Aronberg said he believes Keen-Warren will serve at least two years in prison. Either sentence is a far cry from the penalty she could have faced had a jury convicted her of first-degree murder. Prosecutors originally sought the death penalty but dropped it for a life sentence. Rosenfeld has maintained Keen-Warren’s innocence. 

“We’re thrilled with the resolution,” Rosenfeld said outside the courtroom. “We’re beyond that.”

Marlene Warren’s son, Joe Ahrens, who witnessed her murder, watched Tuesday’s hearing over Zoom. His message for Keen-Warren was brief: May God be with her.

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What happened that day

A clown came to Marlene Warren’s door in the late morning of May 26, 1990 holding flowers and balloons, according to witnesses and prosecutors.

“You’re the Greatest,” one of the balloons said. 

The clown, who prosecutors said was really Keen-Warren in a costume, offered Marlene Warren the carnations and balloons. Then she pulled the trigger and fled in a white Chrysler LeBaron, all in front of Marlene Warren’s then-21-year-old son.

The bullet struck Marlene Warren in the face, and she died days later in the hospital, the Palm Beach Post, now part of the USA TODAY Network, reported at the time.

Marlene Warren and her husband Michael Warren lived in a private aeronautical community in the Wellington area of Palm Beach County.

Convicted killer, now married to victim’s husband, was long suspected

Investigators suspected Keen-Warren of the murder early on, tipped off by coworkers that she was having an affair with Marlene Warren’s husband, Michael Warren. He ran a used car lot and Keen-Warren repossessed cars for the business with her then-husband.

Detectives said at the time the murder was well-planned, but a few clues led them to look at Keen-Warren, the Palm Beach Post reported in 1990. One of the balloons she was holding while dressed as a clown that day depicted Snow White, and wasn’t sold in many stores in the area. Investigators thought the car the clown drove could be one stolen from Michael Warren’s business. 

Keen-Warren denied the rumors of an affair but married Michael Warren years after his wife’s murder. Michael Warren has not been charged in connection with the death of his former wife, but was convicted on grand theft, racketeering and odometer tampering charges in 1994 — charges that came while detectives’ top theory was that Keen-Warren killed Marlene Warren with his blessing, the Palm Beach Post reported at the time.

Detective Paige McCann of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office took over the case in 2013. She discovered a previously unseen 6- to 8-inch fiber among the crime-scene evidence, which Scott said linked Keen-Warren to the murder.

Deputies arrested her in Virginia, where she was living under a new name with Michael Warren, in 2017. She has remained in the Palm Beach County Jail, in what her attorneys described as “near solitary confinement” ever since.

Keen-Warren’s lawyer still claims innocence

Keen-Warren pleaded guilty “because she is guilty,” Assistant State Attorney Reid Scott told the judge.

Rosenfeld, Keen-Warren’s lawyer, disagreed later, saying she did so for the same reason many innocent people do.

“The jury can get it wrong,” he said. “And she was looking at life in prison.”

Defense attorneys disputed the integrity of the fiber evidence tying Keen-Warren to the crime. They filed hundreds of pages of motions seeking to squash it and other evidence key to the prosecutors’ case in the months leading to her trial, which was scheduled to begin May 12.

A slew of logistical problems delayed the trial several times from its original start date in early 2020, including COVID-19 and belated discoveries. Tracking down witnesses, many of whom have since moved from Palm Beach County or forgotten key details of the case, delayed the trial further.

Aronberg issued a statement applauding the prosecutor and detectives’ “Herculean efforts” to hold Keen-Warren accountable. After years of professing her innocence, he said, she’s finally admitted her guilt.

Tuesday’s hearing took place quietly and without fanfare, squeezed into the lunch break of another murder trial.

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