Judge Overturns Conviction of Security Guard in Shooting Death of 18-Year-Old

A Los Angeles judge Monday overturned a former security guard's conviction for an 18-year-old woman's shooting death in a Palmdale park-and-ride lot nearly 17 years ago.

Citing new evidence in the case, Los Angeles County prosecutors earlier this month asked that Raymond Lee Jennings' conviction for the Feb. 22, 2000, shooting death of Antelope Valley College student Michelle O'Keefe be thrown out. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan took the matter under submission following a hearing Jan. 5.

In a court filing in early January, Los Angeles County Chief Deputy District Attorney John K. Spillane wrote that the District Attorney's Office agrees that Jennings is entitled to relief "based on newly discovered evidence pointing to his factual innocence.''

O'Keefe was shot four times after she returned to her blue Ford Mustang, which she left at the park-and-ride lot so she could carpool with a friend to a Kid Rock video shoot in Los Angeles, where they worked as paid extras.

Jennings was a security guard at the parking lot where O'Keefe was killed.

Jennings, now 42, was convicted in December 2009 of second-degree murder by the third jury to hear the case against him. The first two juries deadlocked in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom and the case was eventually returned to Lancaster, where he was found guilty.

The case is the first in which the district attorney's new Conviction Review Unit has asked a judge to overturn a conviction.

"The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has lost confidence in the validity of the conviction and requests that this court grant the habeas corpus petition and set aside Jennings' conviction,'' Spillane wrote in the letter to the judge. "Additionally, based upon the current state of the evidence known to us, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office will not seek to retry Raymond Jennings for the murder of Michelle O'Keefe,'' Spillane also noted that the facts uncovered in the ongoing investigation meet "the burden of proof required for a finding of factual innocence'' for Jennings.

Jennings, a father of five and an Iraq war veteran, told reporters after the Jan. 5 court hearing he was confident the judge would rule in his favor.

"You know, my heart goes out to the O'Keefes ... No matter what's told to the O'Keefes they're always going to be under the impression that I'm the one that took their daughter's life,'' Jennings said. "It's a sad reality. But I hope that they find peace and I hope that this new investigation leads to the conviction of the real perpetrator or perpetrators.''

Jennings -- who had been behind bars since his December 2005 arrest and was serving a 40-year-to-life term in state prison -- was released from custody on electronic monitoring June 23 at the request of the D.A.'s office while law enforcement completed a new investigation into O'Keefe's killing.

The victim's parents said outside court that it was still hard for them to believe that Jennings wasn't involved in their daughter's killing.

"As far as I'm concerned, he's still guilty,'' Patricia O'Keefe said, noting that she didn't know anything about the new evidence authorities say they have uncovered.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
Contact Us