Report describes what led to killing — (The Herald-Tribune)

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The Herald-Tribune

By LATISHA R. GRAY, latisha.gray@heraldtribune.com

Last modified: December 14. 2007 12:00AM

SARASOTA COUNTY — Co-workers of a woman who shot and killed her manager in June speculated she was abusing prescription drugs when her job performance started slipping.

Employees at Dr. Jeffrey Sack’s cardiologist office on Bee Ridge Road suspected Jacquelyn Ferguson was abusing her medication when she repeatedly forgot simple tasks, such as addressing envelopes, about two months into the job.

They said she started as a focused employee, but her behavior quickly changed and she was easily agitated by office manager Denise Keyworth.

Their rocky relationship ended June 6 when Ferguson, 51, shot Keyworth, 45, five times in the upper chest — hitting her lungs, heart and esophagus.

Ferguson then drove home and took her own life, authorities said.

An autopsy of Ferguson found an over-the-counter painkiller similar to Tylenol, an antidepressant and a prescription painkiller in her system.

The Sheriff’s Office released its findings Thursday after a six-month investigation. The 100-plus-page report detailed a relationship that started out friendly, but within months showed signs of “bad will” and “animosity.”

“I have to assume that she was on something and snapped,” Sack said to investigators during sworn testimony days after the shooting. “Cause this in and of itself … you just can’t explain it.”

On the morning of the shooting Keyworth was cleaning out Ferguson’s desk, preparing to fire her. When Ferguson arrived at work shortly before 9 a.m. the two went into an office and employees said they heard Keyworth scream, “Oh my God,” and then gunfire.

Ferguson then went to her Palm-Aire home, where she shot herself in the head. She left a note that read: “I’ve never been violent in my life but enough is enough.”

A neighbor said Ferguson was depressed about work and taking medication, and she had recently been involved in a car crash. Ferguson also had previous back problems, friends said.

Sack hired Ferguson in November 2006, and told investigators the two women had a very amicable relationship in the beginning. He said Ferguson thrived under Keyworth’s high expectations.

But within a few months, the relationship deteriorated and Keyworth, who had run the office for about eight years, started contemplating firing Ferguson.

Friends said Ferguson complained that Keyworth was overbearing and made her job difficult, but she told a co-worker she could not afford to lose her job. Investigators found a resume and classified ads in Ferguson’s purse.

Ferguson’s behavior was strange at times.

A local car dealer said she tried to buy a car a month before the shooting and said to put it on country singer Keith Urban’s tab.

The man said her eyes were red and droopy and she seemed like “she was on something.”

Investigators found several empty pill bottles inside Ferguson’s home, along with recently filled prescriptions with little or no medication left inside.

Friends and neighbors said Ferguson was a calm person, with a penchant for exotic pet birds and holistic medicine.

Keyworth, a mother of three grown sons, was described as a “true Christian” and an “uplifting person.”

She worked at her church’s preschool ministry and was a greeter at the front door.