The 1990 murder of, shot by someone , haunted not just the public, but the Palm Beach County State Attorney ‘s Office. Despite identifying two suspects, the case, went unsolved for decades.
Dave Aronberg is the current state attorney.
Dave Aronberg: It’s easy to see why this case has so much interest … who isn’t afraid of a killer clown?
Dave Aronberg: This was an assassination. This was not a random act of violence. This was not a robbery.
Joe Ahrens: The unknowingness of this heinous crime. The fear … it was hell.
Joe Ahrens was 21 and living at home with his stepfather Mike and his mother Marlene when she was murdered.
Joe Ahrens: She was a good mother. … Everything she did, she took pride in.
A DEADLY DELIVERY
The morning of May 26, 1990 had started as a cheerful one. Ahrens, recuperating from a broken leg, was having breakfast at home with his mom and three friends when they saw a clown approaching carrying balloons and flowers.
Joe Ahrens: And we kind of … figured … I had a cast on, somebody was sending, to heal and — for gesture …
Peter Van Sant: This is like, “Oh, what a delightful gift,” to cheer you up with your broken leg, right?
Joe Ahrens: Right.
Joe Ahrens: My mother opened the door … And then we heard “bang” and she fell. At that point, we knew something was wrong. … My mother was struggling to breathe … And then I jumped to the phone, you know, called 911 right away.
As the clown slowly and silently walked to a car, Ahrens and some of his friends tried to get a closer look at anything that might help describe the disguised attacker.
Joe Ahrens: The only thing it didn’t have any color on it was the shoes that were solid black and the white gloves.
Peter Van Sant: And did you notice anything about the clown’s eyes?
Joe Ahrens: I did. That’s the most thing I — I saw was the big brown eyes.
Peter Van Sant: And the clown gets in the car. What kind of car was it?
Joe Ahrens: It was a white LeBaron.
Peter Van Sant: And does the car peel off?
Joe Ahrens: No. It goes into gear and drives off like nothing happened.
While some of Ahren’s friends remained at his house waiting for EMS, he got into Marlene’s car and tried to chase down the clown. But he couldn’t catch up.
Meanwhile, with the clown’s balloons and flowers left behind, Marlene was rushed to the hospital, barely alive, where she was put on life support.
Joe Ahrens: I kept telling her I love her, and I don’t want her to go, and please don’t leave me.
Two days later, with no hope of a recovery, life support was removed, and Marlene died.
Joe Ahrens: I knew my life was going to change and I knew it was going to become hell, because she wasn’t here to help me.
A top clue the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office had was Joe’s description of the clown: about 6-foot-one, tall, skinny, with orange hair, a red nose and a big orange smile and male. And those balloons left behind? They now seemed cruelly mocking: “You’re the greatest” one said. The other had a picture of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
Authorities had also spoken with Joe’s stepfather Mike Warren, who they learned had an alibi: he was in a car with friends heading to a racetrack when the shooting took place.
Peter Van Sant: Growing up with Mike Warren, what was that like? Was he a good dad?
Joe Ahrens: I thought so. … That’s the only father I knew. I mean I was really young when my real father and mother separated.
Marlene and Mike Warren were married when Ahrens was 3 years old. They had built a comfortable life in Wellington, Florida, an affluent suburb. Marlene owned several businesses, including apartment complexes, and the couple ran Bargain Motors, specializing in used cars and rentals.
While business was good, the marriage, says Ahrens, was troubled. He says his mother became convinced, making her fearful.
Joe Ahrens: She said, “if anything does happen to me, your father did it.”
Peter Van Sant: She said that to you?
Joe Ahrens: I told her no way — he would never do anything like that. She said don’t put it past him.
Marlene shared that same fear with her mother, Shirley Twing.
Shirley Twing: She says, “If anything happens to me, Mike did it.”
We interviewed Twing in 2017, when “48 Hours” started investigating Marlene’s murder.
Peter Van Sant: That’s an ominous thing to say. … Did you sense fear in her voice?
Shirley Twing: Sure. Yes, I did.
So, when Twing learned her daughter had been murdered, her mind went to Mike Warren.
Shirley Twing: Right away. I figured Mike had something to with it, that’s for damn sure.
But Mike Warren had that alibi, so authorities were looking for someone else. And when they visited Bargain Motors, Mike’s place of business, one name kept popping up: that woman with whom Mike was supposedly having an affair.
Aleathea McRoberts: Everybody at the Bargain Motors were reporting that you should look first at Sheila Keen.
Aleathea McRoberts, an assistant state attorney in Palm Beach County, has worked on the case from the beginning.
Aleathea McRoberts: And within the next day or so, tips were being called in that you really should investigate Sheila Keen and Michael Warren.
Della Ward (2018): They were definitely seeing one another.
Della Ward worked at Bargain Motors with Mike Warren.
Della Ward (2018): He had a lot of compassion, lot of empathy. And people just were drawn to him … especially women.
One of those women, Ward believed, was Sheila Keen.
Della Ward (2018): I found her very nice, very bubbly. … you knew the way she looked at Michael — you just … she loved him, you could see it.
Keen, who also had a reputation for toughness, was a repo woman—repossessing cars at Bargain Motors.
Della Ward (2018): To do repos, you have to have some kind of guts. … She told me, “I keep a gun for my protection because people are crazy, what they do.”
Keen told investigators she was out working at the time of Marlene’s murder.
Aleathea McRoberts: She claimed that she was looking for repossession vehicles, but she was unable to provide any address that she went to … so that they could follow up and confirm it.
As for the affair, both Keen and Mike Warren told investigators they were just friends. But that’s not what authorities learned when they talked to Keen’s neighbors.
Aleathea McRoberts: The neighbors at that apartment complex believed that Michael Warren and Sheila Keen were husband and wife.
Peter Van Sant: Is there any doubt in your mind that there was a — romantic relationship?
Aleathea McRoberts: There’s no doubt and … they didn’t hide it.
An affair, though, isn’t necessarily a motive for murder.
Peter Van Sant: Did anyone profit financially from Marlene’s death?
Aleathea McRoberts: Yes. So, Michael Warren … profited … largely, the properties and assets that they owned together were in her name. So, by her predeceasing him, he was able to obtain 100 percent of the assets.
Investigators were also trying to locate local stores that had recently sold clown outfits. Deborah Offord had been working at a costume shop when, two nights before Marlene’s murder, a customer knocked at the door at closing time.
Deborah Offord (2018): She wanted to see the clown costumes. I said, “Can you come back tomorrow?” And she said, “No, I need something right now.”
Offord told investigators the customer paid cash, buying a clown suit, an orange wig, makeup and a red clown nose.
Deborah Offord (2018): She was, I would say, about 5’10, um, long, thick, straight, like, chocolate-colored hair. Big brown eyes.
Detectives later presented Offord with a photo lineup that included a picture of Sheila Keen. Offord identified Keen, and one other woman, as possibly being the person who bought the clown costume.
The sheriff’s office also believed they located where the shooter bought those flowers and balloons — a Publix supermarket.
NEWS REPORT: The buyer described as a white female with dark brown hair.
The description of the customer given by the worker at the supermarket, “brown hair,” and at the costume store, “brown hair, brown eyes.” was consistent with Sheila Keen. And there was Sheila’s reported affair with Mike Warren. It was intriguing, circumstantial evidence—but would it be enough to make an arrest?
SEARCHING FOR A KILLER WHO WAS DRESSED AS A CLOWN
Joseph Ahrens: Before they turned the machine off on my mother … I told her that I loved her very much and that we were going to get justice.
As Ahrens mourned the loss of his mother Marlene, investigators continued looking for additional evidence tying Sheila Keen to Marlene Warren’s murder.
Dave Aronberg: You talk about this case to anyone, and the first place people go is, yeah, it’s the mistress … So, investigators focused on Sheila Keen.
And soon a big break when detectives located an abandoned white Chrysler LeBaron—matching the description witnesses gave of the getaway car.
Peter Van Sant: What was found inside that Chrysler LeBaron?
Aleathea McRoberts: There was synthetic fibers … similar type fibers to … a clown wig.
They were orange, the same color as the wig Ahrens says the assailant was wearing. Also inside the car, they found a human hair. It was brown like Sheila Keen’s.
LOCAL NEWS REPORT: Sheriff’s detectives executed a search warrant at the home of Sheila Keen.
Inside Keen’s closet, detectives say they recovered orange fibers that a forensic examination later concluded were similar to the ones found in the Chrysler LeBaron. And another breakthrough was made when Keen’s hair from her apartment was compared to the one recovered from the getaway car.
Aleathea McRoberts: That was scientifically microscopically examined and found to be consistent.
Consistent with Keen’s hair, but DNA technology was still in its infancy in 1990, and scientists were unable to make a definitive connection.
There were other challenges for investigators. The gun used to kill Marlene and the actual costume the killer clown wore were never found. And remember, Ahrens thought the attacker was a 6-foot-tall man. Keen didn’t fit either of those descriptions.
Aleathea McRoberts: We’re talking about an event that took seconds and their glances of this clown was a second or two.
Also, McRoberts says any eyewitness would have a hard time describing someone in a baggy clown costume, makeup and a wig.
Aleathea McRoberts: It’s basically, a clown is a clown.
And there was Keen’s alleged affair with Mike Warren, those fiber and hair results, and those salesclerks at the costume and grocery stores whose description of the customer purchasing the clown outfit, balloons and flowers was consistent with Keen.
Peter Van Sant: This sounds like it’s — the evidence is really building up … it’s like you’ve got enough there to make an arrest. What happens?
Aleathea McRoberts: Well, there was certainly argument about that … and opinions that differed at the time. … and then there’s … an indecision about, do I do it now or should we keep trying and get a little bit more?
As investigators looked for more evidence, they discovered that Mike Warren’s business, Bargain Motors, was connected to the suspected getaway car. They learned an employee stole the car from a competitor several weeks before the murder.
Dave Aronberg: And that’s how they got the Chrysler LeBaron.
NEWS REPORT: Sheriff’s detectives spent about five hours Thursday night searching the offices of Bargain Motors …
And as they had investigated Mike Warren’s business, they discovered widespread fraud—charging him with racketeering, insurance fraud and odometer tampering. He ultimately was convicted on 43 counts of fraud and sent to prison.
Dave Aronberg: This was for fraud. … And so, you know, you just can’t extrapolate one to the next. I mean, there’s no evidence that he’s a murderer. … We do have our suspicions, though.
He was not charged with any crime in connection with Marlene’s murder. And Mike Warren felt he was a victim in this case — sentiments he shared in a radio interview before he went to prison.
MIKE WARREN (radio interview): They wanted to put me out of business.
Mike Warren speculated that Marlene might actually have been the victim of an angry tenant or car buyer.
MIKE WARREN (radio interview): I really can’t think of a reason why, uh, other than the fact of the type of businesses that we’re in, as far as being landlords and … crossing a few people by repossessing their car.
But law enforcement did not think Marlene Warren’s murder was the work of a disgruntled tenant or customer, and as the years passed the case grew cold. And as for Keen, she seemed to disappear.
Della Ward: Nobody ever brought her name up again.
Joe Ahrens: You know, for many years … I was suffering in, in despair.
After Mike Warren went to prison, Ahrens says he and his stepfather became estranged. And as he continued to grieve the loss of his mother, he was consumed by her case going unsolved.
Peter Van Sant: Give me a sense of what problems you fell into after your mother’s murder.
Joe Ahrens: Oh, wow. Where do we start? … Alcoholism, drugs, I mean you name it.
It was especially painful, says Ahrens, on each passing anniversary of the shooting.
Joe Ahrens: I would blow up that day and go get drunk, you know, and just … I’d go to her gravesite … It was sad.
Peter Van Sant: Would you go out to her grave to talk to her?
Joe Ahrens: I did a lot to try to find answers, you know, but I was so confused. I was getting nothing. I was just lost.
Joe eventually emerged from the fog of drugs and despair. With that behind him, he became increasingly certain of who murdered his mother.
Joe Ahrens: I concluded that … Sheila Keen was the one that did it.
Dave Aronberg: She probably never thought, in a million years, she’d be held accountable for her crimes. She thought she got away with it.
COLD CASE UNIT MAKES BREAKTHROUGH
Shirley Twing and her daughter, Marlene, shared a fascination with clowns. In Twing’s home, she even kept a room full of clown art and figurines.
The sad, sometimes unsettling images brought comfort to Twing, despite the fact that a clown had so brutally ended her daughter’s life.
Shirley Twing: I don’t hate clowns. I just hate one.
Although the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office hadn’t given up on solving Marlene’s murder, 27 long years had passed without an arrest. Then, by 2017, a cold case unit made a breakthrough. State Attorney Dave Aronberg finally had new, important evidence.
Dave Aronberg: The hairs that were found in the LeBaron were able to be traced to Sheila Keen … through DNA technology.
With that, detectives believed they could now definitively connect Keen to the alleged getaway car— and to Marlene Warren’s murder. And when sheriffs found suspect Keen, they were blown away to learn whom she had married.
Dave Aronberg: After Michael Warren got out of prison, he reconnected with … Sheila Keen. … here’s someone whose wife had been murdered and he just married the chief suspect.
Peter Van Sant: What did that tell you?
Dave Aronberg:: When you combine the fact that the two of them were in an affair … at the time of the murder … and then later, they got married … it did seem like mission accomplished.
That marriage was in 2002. The Warrens, now middle-aged, settled into a new life in Tennessee, running a burger joint called Purple Cow. Keen took Mike Warren’s last name. But in an interesting twist, Assistant State Attorney Aleathea McRoberts says she changed her first name.
Aleathea McRoberts: Sheila Keen-Warren introduced herself to … their friends in that life that her name was Debbie. … She had died her hair blonde, changed her name, and was living a full life.
Brook Blevins: We would have … dinners. They were wonderful cooks.
The Warrens befriended Brook Blevins, a neighbor at a weekend property the couple purchased in the Virginia mountains. When “48 Hours” spoke to Blevins in 2018, she said she also knew Mike’s wife as “Debbie” and was told it was a childhood nickname.
Brook Blevins: Her dad nicknamed her that when she was small.
Ashley Sexton (2018): I never called her Sheila (laughs). I always called her Debbie.
Former Purple Cow employees, Ashley Sexton and Cynthia Swafford say they knew Debbie as a tough boss.
Cynthia Swafford (2018): I mean, she was awful aggressive, mean.
And they even heard an alarming rumor about her past.
Ashley Sexton (2018): The rumor around Purple Cow when we worked there was Debbie killed Mike’s ex-wife. … I thought they was blowin’ off steam, and I was like, OK, whatever.
Cynthia Swafford (2018): Mm-hmm (affirms).
Ashley Sexton (2018): But the rumors said it more than once … even to where we knew she dressed up like a clown.
According to an employee, Sheila had appeared in clown makeup at the restaurant one year during Halloween.
By the fall of 2017, the Warrens had sold the business and retired full time to the house in Virginia. Meanwhile State Attorney Aronberg felt the case against Sheila had only gotten stronger.
Dave Aronberg: When you combine the fact that they got married and seemingly lived happily ever after with the new DNA breakthrough, we’re able to get enough evidence to make an arrest.
On Sept. 26, 2017 — 27 years after Marlene Warren’s murder, authoritiesdriving on a road near their home. She was charged with first-degree murder.
Greg Rosenfeld: Sheila did not murder Marlene Warren.
Greg Rosenfeld, Sheila Keen-Warren’s defense attorney, says Sheila was not the shooter.
Greg Rosenfeld: Everything was so methodical … this person walking up to the house … committing this shooting and then slowly walking away … We’re dealing with someone who … had experience in committing a hit or a murder.
Peter Van Sant: That’s not Sheila?
Greg Rosenfeld: That is not, Sheila.
Shortly after Sheila’s arrest, Dave Aronberg addressed reporters.
DAVE ARONBERG: Today we filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty in this case.
REPORTER: Can you say whether Michael Warren is a suspect?
DAVE ARONBERG: I can’t say that.
Aleathea McRoberts says there was something Keen-Warren asked as she was being taken into custody that caught prosecutors’ attention.
Aleathea McRoberts: One of the first things she said is, well, “are you gonna arrest him too?” Pointing to her husband.
Peter Van Sant: Which suggests what to you?
Aleathea McRoberts: That she knew exactly what she was being arrested for and they had done it together.
Ahrens had come to the same conclusion: that his stepfather and Keen-Warren were both involved in his mother’s murder.
Peter Van Sant: Would you like to see Mike Warren charged in the murder of your mother?
Joe Ahrens: Yes, I would.
With Keen-Warren in custody, “48 Hours” wanted to speak with Mike Warren.
Peter Van Sant: We’re going to go to his front door, give it a knock, and see if he’ll answer a couple of questions.
QUESTIONING THE EVIDENCE
After the arrest of Sheila Keen-Warren in 2017, “48 Hours” wanted to talk to Mike Warren about what he knew about his wife’s murder.
Peter Van Sant: [knocking on front door]: Hey, Mike. I’m Peter Van Sant with CBS News.
He wouldn’t open the door, but we spoke through it for several minutes.
Peter Van Sant: Did you have anything to do with planning the murder of your wife, Marlene?
Mike Warren: Most definitely not.
Peter Van Sant: You did not?
Mike Warren: That’s correct.
He was adamant that neither he nor Keen-Warren had anything to do with Marlene’s murder.
Peter Van Sant: Did you suggest to Sheila that she dress in a clown outfit?
Mike Warren: You’re saying, “Sheila, Sheila.” Who says she even did that? …I don’t think she had anything to do with this. If I thought she had something to do with this, I wouldn’t have been with her.
Peter Van Sant: Do you believe, based on the evidence over the years, that Mike Warren knew what was going to happen that day?
Aleathea McRoberts: I don’t believe there’s any direct evidence of that.
Dave Aronberg: There just wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute Michael Warren. … but if evidence emerges, we’ll pursue it.
As they prepared for trial, despite never recovering the clown disguise or the gun, prosecutors were confident they could prove that Keen-Warren committed the murder so that she could marry Mike Warren.
Dave Aronberg: Sheila Keen-Warren had the means, the motive and the opportunity to do this.
Greg Rosenfeld: We will never know who killed Marlene Warren because the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and the State Attorney’s Office did such a poor job investigating this case. I can tell you without question that it was not Sheila Keen.
Keen-Warren’s defense attorney, Greg Rosenfeld says she’s innocent—a victim of the state attorney’s reckless desire to close a notorious cold case.
Greg Rosenfeld: And they said you know what? This is our suspect. We’re going to stick with it. … even though the pieces of the puzzle didn’t fit the puzzle.
Rosenfeld says there were other potential suspects authorities ignored—including an inmate who supposedly bragged in prison about murdering Marlene. But prosecutors say he was investigated and cleared.
Dave Aronberg: It’s not surprising that … they would try to point the finger at law enforcement for not looking at every potential suspect. … But if you look at the evidence, it pointed to one person all along, Sheila Keen-Warren.
The state was confident Keen-Warren was responsible for Marlene’s murder—but Rosenfeld plans to poke holes in its case at trial.
Peter Van Sant: How do you overcome DNA evidence?
Greg Rosenfeld: The State Attorney’s Office should be embarrassed about the DNA evidence in this case.
Rosenfeld agrees the hair prosecutors say was found in the LeBaron getaway car could be from Keen-Warren, but he says, it could also be from about four percent of the U.S. Caucasian population.
Greg Rosenfeld: They couldn’t exclude Marlene Warren from that hair sample. … So that was their groundbreaking DNA evidence.
And even if you concede that the hair is from Keen-Warren, says Rosenfeld, there’s an innocent explanation as to how it got there: the LeBaron was on the lot at Bargain Motors where she worked.
Greg Rosenfeld: Sheila may have been in the car used in this murder. That’s it.
Peter Van Sant: The defense attorney says, well, of course her hair might be in there … It doesn’t suggest that she was driving at the time of the murder. What do you say to that?
Aleathea McRoberts: It’s just one more link. … Once you put that one thing with the totality of all the circumstances, then it starts to become overwhelming.
Rosenfeld says the orange fibers found in the car, which prosecutors say could be from the clown costume, should also be excluded.
Greg Rosenfeld: So, the fibers found in the car were synthetic fibers. … That same type of fiber can be used in thousands of different products. … So, the state likes to present it as … clown wig fibers, but that’s factually incorrect.
Even more troubling than the evidence gathered, says Rosenfeld, is how it was handled over the decades.
Peter Van Sant: What are we looking at here?
Greg Rosenfeld: These are … evidence bags at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Evidence Unit torn open. Just gaping holes in these evidence bags.
Peter Van Sant: If there’s gaping holes, what can that do to the evidence inside?
Greg Rosenfeld: That’s precisely how you have cross-contamination.
The bag contains a clown wig that investigators purchased, similar to the one they believed was worn by the assailant. They used it to compare to the fibers found in the LeBaron and in Keen-Warren’s home.
Greg Rosenfeld: This is an open evidence bag with the wig sticking out. … this is horrifying.
Peter Van Sant: And, so, your bottom line is, is that this evidence is unreliable now?
Greg Rosenfeld: Without question.
Peter Van Sant: Can it not be argued that … some of the evidence in this case was indeed bungled?
Dave Aronberg: You know, it’s — you’re asking a lot of law enforcement to be perfect from 1990 to today. … some of the evidence was kept in an evidence storage area that wasn’t ideal. … Any mistake, any small opening will be exploited by defense lawyers.
Prosecutors were still certain they had the right person for Marlene’s murder. But in February 2020, after a reevaluation of Keen-Warren’s case, they announced they would no longer seek the death penalty.
Peter Van Sant: Were you told by the prosecutor’s office that there was always a chance in a jury trial that she might even be acquitted?
Joe Ahrens: Yes.
FROM DEATH PENALTY TO LIFE IN PRISON TO A PLEA DEAL
It is said the wheels of justice turn slowly, and when it came to the murder of Marlene Warren,
that grind often seemed to come to a halt. After the 27-year wait for an arrest,. By 2022, she had spent five years in jail; her trial was postponed six times.
Aleathea McRoberts: And then we had COVID … So, it just was one thing after another. … decades of accumulation, of files and photographs and … mountains of evidence and documents.
Defense attorney Greg Rosenfeld was also trying to work his way through all that evidence. And he says, adding to the delays, was a lack of cooperation from the state.
Greg Rosenfeld: Evidence kept — I’d say, disappearing.
Rosenfeld says one crucial piece of evidence for the defense that disappeared for years was what investigators called the “clown sighting file.”
Greg Rosenfeld: These were all the tips … about people who alleged to have seen clowns in the area.
Peter Van Sant: That opens up, for you, new avenues as to possible suspects, right?
Greg Rosenfeld: Absolutely. Absolutely. … I think the sheriff’s office and the State Attorney’s Office just decided they didn’t want to look for this evidence
But then suddenly, in October 2022, as another trial date neared, the file was found.
Aleathea McRoberts: It was located, not with the Sheila Keen clown murder … boxes, it was actually a file out of place.
Greg Rosenfeld: They find this clown sighting file and it’s 35 tips. We begin to investigate them. … now we’re 32 years after the murder. … you know, we couldn’t track down these witnesses.
Aleathea McRoberts: I’ve seen it and … it’s silly things … Clearly clown sightings that had nothing to do with Marlene Warren.
Peter Van Sant: And it wasn’t being intentionally hidden from the defense, you’re saying.
Aleathea McRoberts: Absolutely not. We were meticulous about making sure they had everything.
Though, as the trial neared, the decades of delays were causing problems for the prosecution as well.
Dave Aronberg: Every day that went by, it was a tougher case. … witnesses die, memories fade, evidence spoils … One of our key witnesses passed away. … He was the one who compiled the evidence. And without him, we lost a chain of custody for some crucial evidence relating to the fibers.
Evidence the defense already claimed had been poorly stored and mishandled.
Greg Rosenfeld: Contaminated, inadmissible, unreliable. … it just goes to show you how poor of an investigation that was done.
Dave Aronberg: They were going to be able to argue that because of the opening of the bags, that the evidence was spoiled, and because of the break in the chain of custody, because of the death of our witnesses, that … it shouldn’t even be admitted. … So, you had some real potential for reasonable doubt.
Greg Rosenfeld: There was beyond a reasonable doubt.
On April 25, 2023, two weeks before Keen-Warren’s trial for the murder of Marlene Warren was to begin, there was yet another surprise in a case that had been filled with the unexpected: a plea deal was reached.
PROSECUTOR REID SCOTT (plea hearing): Ms. Keen-Warren, the defendant herein, will agree to withdraw her previously entered plea of not guilty enter a plea of guilty.
Keen-Warren — whose case at one time included the death penalty, then life in prison — would nowand be sentenced to 12 years in prison. Under sentencing guidelines for time served, she is expected to be released in 2025 — perhaps sooner.
Dave Aronberg: We had to make a judgment based on what we had.
Peter Van Sant: Because the fear is what, if you take this to trial?
Dave Aronberg: The worst thing that could happen would be that Sheila Keen-Warren would be found not guilty, not because she was innocent, but because after 33 years, we could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was the one who did it.
But Keen-Warren did have to publicly pay a price for this plea deal — admitting in open court that she, in fact, did murder Marlene Warren.
PROSECUTOR REID SCOTT (plea hearing): If this case were to proceed to jury trial, the state would present evidence … that on or about May the 26th of 1990, the defendant was responsible for the death of Marlene Warren.
JUDGE: Ms. Keen-Warren, Did you hear all that?
SHEILA KEEN-WARREN: Yes.
JUDGE: And do you agree with that factual basis?”
SHEILA KEEN-WARREN: Yes.
Despite admitting her crime, Keen-Warren, through her attorney, still maintains she is innocent.
Greg Rosenfeld: Sheila did not commit this murder. … It was very difficult for her to, uh, admit to committing a crime that she did not commit.
Peter Van Sant: But as a matter of law, she has admitted to committing the murder by saying yes.
Greg Rosenfeld: Correct. For the purpose of —
Peter Van Sant: So, she is a convicted murderer?
Greg Rosenfeld: In so far as the law goes, sure. … But when … you’re told you could be home … or, you know, you can play Russian roulette and risk spending the rest of your life in prison. It’s kind of a no- brainer.
Dave Aronberg: The defense cannot have it both ways. … So, she will be a murderer for every day for the rest of her life. Even when she gets out of prison one day, she’ll still be a convicted murderer.
When she does get out of prison, she will reunite with her husband Michael Warren.
Greg Rosenfeld: Sheila is going home to … Tennessee. … She’s going back to her life.
Michael Warren, in a statement provided to “48 Hours” regarding the plea, said, “My wife did not commit this crime… It was difficult to see her plea to a crime she did not commit, but it wasn’t worth the gamble when she was offered a deal that’ll have her home in 16 to 18 months …”
Peter Van Sant: With this deal, there is a chance that Sheila might get out of prison within the next year or two. Are you all right with that?
Joe Ahrens: Well, I’m not all right with it, but I have to be.
Still, Joe Aherns approved the plea deal, feeling it wasn’t worth the gamble of going to trial.
Joe Ahrens: That was very emotional because that was the end of something so huge that grew for 33 years of my life.
Peter Van Sant: Finally. It’s over.
Joe Ahrens: Finally, you know. It was phew.
The demons that once occupied Ahrens’ mind are gone, replaced with loving memories of how his mother Marlene lived, rather than how that life was so violently taken.
Peter Van Sant: What would you say to your mother, if you could speak to her today?
Joe Ahrens: Wow, what could I say to my mother? … “Thank you for showing me how to love and be peaceful and … Thank you for being in my life.”
Marlene Warren’s mother Shirley Twing died in March 2023, before Sheila Keen-Warren pleaded guilty to Marlene’s murder.
Produced by Ruth Chenetz, Richard Fetzer and Sarah Prior. Ryan Smith is the development producer. Marlon Disla, Mike Baluzy, Marcus Balsam and Philip Tangel are the editors. Anthony Batson is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.