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April 9, 2014
This is a case summary regarding the wrongful conviction of Raymond Lee Jennings for second degree murder in California. He is currently incarcerated at Corcoran state prison in California. The case was featured in the 2010 Dateline NBC episode, The Girl With the Blue Mustang, profiling the February 2000 murder of 18 year-old Michelle O'Keefe (photo). Please look closely at this summary and the accompanying photos and map to get an in-depth understanding of the injustice that has been done in the case.
The initial facts you need to know about this case are:
- There is no physical or forensic evidence linking Jennings to the crime.
- DNA from blood found under the victim’s fingernails excludes Jennings as the contributor.
- No murder weapon was ever found, nor was Jennings ever linked to a 9mm handgun (which the murder weapon was determined to be).
- Jennings never confessed to the crime.
- There is no eyewitness to the crime except Jennings, himself.
- Mr. Jennings voluntarily submitted to hours of police interviews and interrogations and a polygraph test without objection or legal representation.
- Mr. Jennings was, at the time, an Army National Guardsman, a husband and father of five children with no criminal history and who had no apparent motive to commit the crime.
The evidence presented against Jennings at trial consists of:
- An elaborate mosaic of statements and snippets of statements taken from the hours of police interrogation of Jennings which prosecutors said pointed to his guilt.
- A behavioral analyst consultant whose profile of the crime and the killer matched the picture the prosecution painted of Jennings and which was wholly and blatantly unsubstantiated and highly prejudicial.
- Testimony of a nearby witness who would later be sentenced to prison on a drug conviction.
- False testimony given by a so-called "firearms expert" from the LA County Sheriff's Department which was presented by the witness and prosecution as fact and was not objected to nor challenged by defense counsel.
On the evening of February 22, 2000, Jennings was working as an unarmed security guard for All Valley Security patrolling a Park-N-Ride lot in Palmdale, California. Earlier that afternoon, Michelle O’Keefe had come to the lot to meet her friend, Jennifer Peterson. The two were going to Los Angeles to participate as extras in the filming of a Kid Rock video. O’Keefe parked her blue Mustang in the lot and the two rode in Peterson’s car to Los Angeles. For the filming, O’Keefe dressed in a short skirt and tube top, and wore a black, vinyl jacket over the tube top.
After the filming, the women returned to the Park-N-Ride. Peterson testified that shortly before they arrived, O’Keefe made two calls. Based on this testimony and cell phone records, investigators determined the girls arrived at the lot between 9:22 and 9:23 p.m. After spending a few minutes as O’Keefe transferred belongings to her car, Peterson drove off. Peterson would testify that O’Keefe’s car was originally parked under street a light at Position A, on the attached map . The actual location of O’Keefe’s car at the beginning of the crime however, was Position B.
Regarding the two locations of O’Keefe’s Mustang, Peterson speculated to investigators that O’Keefe must have moved her car from Position A, near a light pole, to a darker spot at Position B, to change clothes prior to attending an evening college class; but neither the moving of O’Keefe’s car nor O’Keefe’s intent in doing so has ever been definitively established. Around this time, Jennings was at the bus stop at Position C when he heard a car alarm sound toward the west end of the parking lot. As he began walking in that direction, he heard what sounded like a gunshot and immediately knelt down. His position was adjacent to his personal vehicle, parked at Position D. As Jennings stood back up, the car alarm went silent and he heard what sounded like an engine “revving up.” As he began to walk toward the sound, he heard several more gunshots and took cover behind his vehicle. After the gunshots, he glanced over his vehicle along Line Of Sight J to see the Mustang rolling backward toward Position E. Jennings, who was nearsighted and not wearing his glasses (they were in his car), did not see anyone outside the vehicle.
Video taken on the night of the crime showed Jennings without glasses. At 9:32 p.m., court records show that Jennings radioed All Valley dispatch and reported “shots fired” at the Park-N-Ride. He did not report that anyone had been shot. At 9:42 p.m., Jennings’ supervisor, Iris Malone arrived at the location of Jennings’ vehicle (Position D) in her security patrol vehicle. When Jennings approached her, he directed her attention to the Mustang, approximately 403 feet away at Position E, as the area where the shots had come from. Malone requested Jennings accompany her to the Mustang but he refused, being unsure whether the gunman was still in the area. He further told Malone twice during this conversation that she should not proceed either, but should wait for police. Malone disregarded this advice however and proceeded to the scene along Path K. Her vehicle was equipped with flashing lights and a spotlight, all of which were turned on. Arriving at the Mustang, Malone observed there was a wounded victim in the vehicle showing no signs of life. She then radioed All Valley dispatch and requested police and rescue. After about 5 minutes, Malone radioed Jennings and told him to join her at the crime scene. Jennings, believing the scene to be secure, began walking toward the Mustang along Path F. This would have put Jennings’ movement at about 9:47 p.m. When he reached Position M, his attention was drawn to a driver (later identified as Victoria Richardson) in a gray vehicle, 107 feet away at Position L, who was asking him if there had been a shooting. Jennings replied that he “did not know” and proceeded to the crime scene.
The encounter with Richardson was not reported immediately by Jennings, but supervisor Malone did report seeing a car, possibly orange, leaving the area after she arrived. At the time of the encounter, Jennings was not aware that Richardson had been near the crime scene or that she was a possible witness. When Jennings arrived at the scene, he did not have his flashlight. It was left in his car with his glasses. He borrowed Malone’s flashlight to look around the crime scene. Seeing shell casings on the ground, Jennings commented they appeared to be “.38 caliber or 9mm.” At 9:49 p.m., Deputy Billy Cox arrived at the crime scene. He found the Mustang resting with its rear wheels on a planter island at Position E and its front wheels on the pavement. The driver’s door was open and the window down about 4-1/2 inches. The engine was running and the transmission was in neutral. He could not hear the engine running however until he was near the vehicle. O’Keefe’s left leg protruded from the vehicle, her foot on the pavement. O’Keefe was still wearing the club clothes she had worn for the video filming. She had five wounds. One blunt force trauma wound to her forehead and four gunshot wounds: one to her chest (which had heavy gunpowder stippling), one to her left cheek, one to her neck, and one in the inner corner of her left eye. The latter three wounds had lighter stippling. There were five 9mm shell casings on the pavement between Position B and the Mustang’s resting place. Seeing a slug on the ground and a gouge in the asphalt, Jennings also commented that it looked like the gunman had fired into the ground. About three hours after the shooting, detectives Diane Harris and Richard Longshore arrived at the scene. Inside the car, they found O’Keefe’s wallet containing $111 and a change of clothes. Her cell phone, which she had been using immediately before the crime, was not found and was never located. After taking statements from Jennings and Malone, they allowed the two to leave.
Important note: Among the questions asked of Jennings that night and in subsequent interviews was whether he had seen anyone leaving the scene immediately following the shooting, either by foot or by car. Jennings, who had encountered Victoria Richardson approximately 15 minutes after the shooting and in an area relatively detached from the crime scene, reported “No.” He did not connect Richardson as fleeing the scene or as having been a possible witness to the crime. This “neglecting to report” by Jennings would become a central part of the prosecution’s case against him. The Investigation In the days, weeks, months and years following the murder, detectives interviewed Jennings many times and developed many hours of interviews. Jennings always submitted voluntarily to their interviews, never exercised his Fifth Amendment rights, and even submitted voluntarily to a polygraph (which detectives say he failed but which has never been independently verified). A couple of days after the crime, Detective Longshore approached Jennings while he was on duty at the Park-N-Ride. Jennings told Lonshore that, a day earlier, he had reported a suspicious vehicle to All Valley Security dispatch and that a deputy and come out and said he would “check it out.” Jennings said that two men in a red pickup truck had approached him and asked if he was the guard on duty at the time of the O’Keefe shooting. Jennings said the encounter made him fear for his safety.
Detectives would later dispute Jennings’ statement that he had reported this encounter, saying there was no record of a report with the Sheriff’s Department, but there is evidence that a report was made. In their initial interviews, detectives took a “brothers in arms” approach with Jennings, asking him to recount his story and also to “speculate” as to certain aspects of the crime. He responded that because of the way O’Keefe was dressed, he believed she was engaged in prostitution and that the crime was likely a sexual assault gone wrong. They asked him to speculate as to the order of the shots to which he responded that he believed the chest shot to be the first (because of the heavy stippling). During one interview at Jennings’ home, detectives asked if he owned a handgun. Jennings produced a .380 caliber Lorcin that he said was his personal handgun, but which of course, was a different caliber than the murder weapon. A few days after the shooting, detectives requested the uniform Jennings was wearing the night of the crime from All Valley Security. They submitted the uniform for forensic testing. No trace of blood or gunshot residue was found on any of the clothing. Two weeks after the crime, 17-year old Victoria Richardson was picked up on a drug charge. Possibly to gain favorable treatment, she offered information regarding the O’Keefe murder. In her statement, Richardson claimed that she and three other people, (her godson, her friend, and friend’s boyfriend), were parked at Position G, “partying.” Position G is approximately 107 feet from the crime scene. She claimed they were smoking marijuana (a psychoactive drug which has time-altering effects) and listening to music. She claimed that at one point, they heard a sound like someone trying to pry her car door open and thought someone was trying to “break in” to her vehicle, but they did not see anyone. She says that sometime later, she saw in her rear view mirror, a security guard walk past her car. Approximately 2 minutes thereafter, they heard a car alarm and a “tapping” noise. She then recalled seeing (presumably again, in the rear view mirror), a black ’97 or ’98 Toyota Corolla or Tercel 2-door vehicle with a spoiler and tinted windows approach from behind and depart along Path H. She said the car was driven by a white male wearing a white t-shirt and red ball cap turned to the side.
The incredible amount of detail in her account is extraordinary given that she would have only been able to see “headlights” from a vehicle (the black Toyota) approaching her vehicle from the rear (Path H), and would have only gotten, at best, a fleeting glance as the vehicle turned east and drove out of view. Contrast that with her inability to see someone breaking into the very car she was occupying and her account is totally unbelievable. About “4 minutes” after seeing the Toyota, Richardson noticed in her rear view mirror, a security car with flashing lights driving past. At that point, she decided to leave and drove around the crime scene and observed O’Keefe “slumped over the steering wheel” and then proceeded east to Position L where she encountered Jennings, 107 feet away at Position M.
Here again, Richardson’s account does not match the facts: Malone’s security vehicle never drove past Richardson’s position and O’Keefe’s body was never slumped over the steering wheel. After the statement by Richardson, detectives confronted Jennings who confirmed Richardson’s account of encountering Jennings after supervisor Malone had arrived at the crime scene. During this interview, Jennings also told detectives that when he first saw O’Keefe, she was “twitching,” something he had not mentioned in previous interviews. He also said that he had “seen death” before, recounting how he had seen a soldier killed by machine gun fire in a training accident, and of having seen a drill sergeant die in a grenade mishap. Investigators would later determine these incidents were fabricated by Jennings.
By his account, Jennings was trying to impress the investigators and made up stories and offered theories as a way to impress them.
Detectives then asked Jennings to participate in a day-long “cognitive” interview, to which Jennings readily agreed. That interview occurred on April 7, 2000. Among statements made by Jennings were that he noticed five gunshot wounds to O’Keefe’s person when in fact, there were only four. He mistakenly identified the blunt force trauma wound to her forehead as a gunshot wound. He also said he had seen “brain matter” behind her head, which was not possible since no such tissue was found exterior to her wounds. At this time, detectives informed Jennings that he was a suspect in the case.
Approximately 6 months after the murder of their daughter, O’Keefe’s parents filed a civil suit against Jennings in hopes of developing further evidence. That case was eventually dropped, but parts of his taped deposition were used against him in the criminal trials.
In 2003, detectives did present their findings to District Attorney, Robert Foltz, who did not believe there was enough evidence to charge Jennings with crime. Then, in December, 2005, without the development of new evidence, at the urging of O’Keefe’s family and their attorney, R. Rex Parris, D.A. Foltz, filed a single count information charging Jennings with the murder of O’Keefe; he was arrested and held over for trial.
Raymond Jennings has been through three criminal trials and one appeal. His counsel for the first three trials was court appointed attorney, David Houchin. On appeal, Jennings was represented by court appointed attorney, Stephen Temko.
In the first two trials, Houchin moved for a change of venue from the small community of Antelope Valley due to years of heavy press coverage about the case. While the motions were denied, the first two trials were each moved to Los Angeles for “administrative reasons.” In his first trial in 2008, the jury hung 9-to-3 in favor of guilt. The jury in second trial in 2009 hung 11-to-1 in favor of guilt. After the verdict was announced in the second trial, prosecutors announced they would retry Jennings. The judge at that point admonished the prosecutor that the third trial, no matter what the outcome, would be the last.
For the third trial, in November and December 2009, the D.A. was successful in returning the venue to Antelope Valley. The prosecution, aided by the victim’s family and their attorney, presented a mosaic in the form of a PowerPoint presentation consisting of improbable and conflicting statements given by Jennings and statements which, the prosecution contended, only the perpetrator would know.
Prosecutors also introduced the testimony of Victoria Richardson. In addition, prosecutors called forensic behavioral consultant, Mark Safarik, who testified that it was his opinion that the crime was a sexually motivated encounter which went bad; this, based on the fact that when found, O’Keefe’s tube top was partially pulled down. He also concluded that because a security guard was on duty, it was highly unlikely that any other offender would commit such a crime. His assumption of “sexual assault” necessarily profiled the killer as a “male” and was structured so as to preclude anyone but the defendant as the perpetrator.
The prosecutor also called a “firearms expert” who testified that the placement of shots (first to the torso and then to the head) was indicative of someone with military training as was the use of hollow point and full-metal-jacket ammunition. Both of these assertions are patently false (further explained in the Discussion, p. 12-13) but were not challenged by defense counsel.
On Decmber 18th 2009, after having been in trial since before Thanksgiving and after 13 days of deliberation, the jury informed the judge that they had not reached a verdict and asked the judge if each of the stipulated conditions had to be met in order to find Jennings guilty of 1st degree murder. At that time, the judge instructed the jury to deliberate on a 2nd degree murder charge. Christmas was only seven days away and jurors had missed much of what would have been holiday prepararations. It is easy to see how they may have been anxious to reached some kind of verdict. About three hours after receiving the instructions, the jury returned a “guilty” verdict for Second Degree Murder and the unlawful use of a firearm enhancement. Jennings was sentenced to 40 years to life.
In November 2011, Jennings’ appeal was argued # before the Court of Appeals of California, Second District, Division Eight. The judgment of the lower court was affirmed.#
In brief, appellant cited three grounds for appeal:
1. Insufficiency of evidence, citing as precedent: People v. Blakeslee (1969) 2 Cal.App.3d 831 (Blakeslee).
2. Objection to the testimony of forensic behavioralist consultant, Mark Safarik.
a. Ineffective Counsel, citing defense counsel’s failure to object to the entirety of Safarik’s testimony.
1. People v. Blakeslee: The Blakeslee case referred to a case where a girl was convicted of killing her mother, but the evidence was purely circumstantial and no physical evidence linked her to the crime. The guilty verdict was overturned on appeal when it was demonstrated that another person (namely the defendant’s brother) had equal opportunity to commit the crime. In the Jennings appeal, the court found Blakeslee to be “not particularly helpful” since, in the court’s opinion, the circumstantial evidence against appellant was “…of sufficient strength that a rational jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant murdered Michelle O'Keefe.”
2. Testimony of Mark Safarik: Safarik was called by the prosecution to testify as to his opinion on how and why the crime occurred. And even though in the first trial, appellant moved to bar experts “from offering speculative testimony regarding the type of crime committed or intended,” defense counsel did not object to this type of testimony in the second and third trials. The court ruled that since appellant did not object to the testimony of Safarik in the final trial, appellant could not then object on appeal (People v. Ward (2005), 36 Cal. 4th 186, 211). The appellate court went on to say, “…even if the (lower) court erred in allowing Safarik to testify, the error was not prejudicial.”
a. Ineffective Counsel: The court’s decision does not directly address the issue of “ineffective counsel,” cited by appellant. However, in a footnote found in the decision, the court acknowledged that Houchin failed to object to Safarik’s testimony in the final trial. DISCUSSION In finding that a “sufficiency of evidence” existed such that a rational jury could reasonably convict Raymond Jennings, the appellate court cited the following eight points of evidence presented by the prosecution: 1. The implausibility that Jennings did not see the shooter.
2. Jennings repeatedly told investigators that he saw no one leaving the parking lot after the shooting but was contradicted by Victoria Richardson’s statement. (This indicated a deliberate attempt by Jennings to keep investigators from knowing about Richardson).
- The prosecution argued that the assailant would have been walking in a full upright position, along side the vehicle for several feet, firing into the vehicle four times, striking O’Keefe with precision on each shot. In fact, in a reenactment, the prosecution used an average height male walking upright alongside the rolling vehicle and firing into the vehicle. The re-enactment was not shown at trial, but Detective Longshore was allowed to give a description of the re-enactment. The prosecution insisted that Jennings would have had to see the shooter from his vantage point.
- The prosecution's own case stipulated that the shooting occurred in a dark area of the parking lot, but still, argued that there is no way Jennings would not see the shooter from 400 feet away if he was only a witness.
- Jennings was near-sighted and was not wearing his glasses when the incident occurred. Mr. Houchin did not request nor present Jennings’ military medical records which would have supported Jennings’ need to wear glasses.
- Jennings always maintained that there was a parked van partially blocking his view. He also maintained that his glances toward the Mustang were momentary as the incident unfolded.
- Jennings also maintained that he did not see the Mustang rolling backward until “after” the shots were fired.
- View photos from Jennings' and Victoria Richardson's positions here: You decide
3. Jennings stayed next to his car and refused to accompany supervisor Malone to the crime, supposedly concerned for his safety, yet did walk to the crime scene when summoned by Malone after she surveyed the scene.
- As mentioned earlier, Jennings did not associate his encounter with Richardson, (a full 15 minutes after the crime, located away from the crime scene but in the relative presence of his supervisor), with seeing someone “leave the scene” of the crime. He always understood the questions of whether he had seen anyone leaving the scene to mean, “Immediately,” as in “Fleeing” the scene.
- Supervisor Malone told investigators on the night of the crime that she saw a vehicle leave the area. But even though Jennings told investigators he did not see anyone leaving the scene, they did not press him as to the discrepancy between his statement and Malone’s. If they had done so (arguably, something any good investigator would have done) Jennings would have likely told them about the encounter.
- There is simply no evidence that Jennings deliberately withheld information and the assertion that Jennings tried to hide this encounter from detectives amounts to pure conjecture on the part of the prosecutor.
4. Jennings created a fictitious encounter in which, a few nights after the shooting, two men in a pick-up truck approached him and asked if he was the guard on duty at the time of shooting. Jennings said he felt threatened and that he reported the incident to police, but there is no record of this call.
- Not only was Jennings concerned about his own safety, he was concerned about the safety of Iris Malone and urged her, not once, but twice, not to proceed to the Mustang until police arrived.
- By the time Jennings did finally walk to the crime scene, it had been secure for about 5 minutes by Malone whose vehicle had a spotlight and flashing lights turned on.
5. Jennings reported to have seen a “faint pulse” in the victim’s neck and saw her hand “twitch” when he arrived at the crime scene 10 to 15 minutes after the shooting. A prosecution expert witness testified that all outward signs of life would have ceased within five minutes of the last shot; therefore, prosecutors concluded, Jennings must have been at the scene when the shooting occurred (i.e. Jennings was the killer).
- Jennings reported the encounter to All Valley Security dispatch, not to police.
- Detectives claimed there was no record of a deputy taking a report on this incident, however, during the second trial, Jennings’ defense produced a parking enforcement officer who testified to having seen a “Hot Sheet” at the Sheriff’s Department that described the vehicle reported by Jennings as relating to the O’Keefe murder. The D.A. tried to suppress this evidence but was unsuccessful.
- Inexplicably, the officer was not called by the defense during the third trial (in which Jennings was convicted). When Jennings asked Mr. Houchin why she was not testifying, he was told, “We don’t need her.”
6. Even though he normally carried a flashlight, Jennings did not have his flashlight when he arrived at the crime scene. Prosecutors asserted that Jennings had used the flashlight to inflict the blunt force trauma wound to O’Keefe’s head, and then hid the flashlight before supervisor Malone arrived.
- Jennings would later admit that this statement was a fabrication. During questioning, Jennings, trying to impress law enforcement officers, told not only this story, but also stories about how he had seen a soldier die in a training accident and a drill sergeant killed by a grenade; both stories that Jennings later admitted were lies. Curiously however, while prosecutors were quick to point out the fact that Jennings lied about the military training accidents, they asserted that the statement about seeing O’Keefe’s pulse and hand twitch was the truth.
- It is entirely possible that after sustaining two shots to her head and one to her neck, O’Keefe never moved again. The prosecution cannot say with certainty that O’Keefe displayed any outward signs of life for any amount of time after the final shot. Without that certainty, they can not say that even the killer ever saw signs of life in the victim following the shooting.
- When this statement is examined together with the totality of all statements Jennings made, it is likely that Jennings was embellishing what he saw in order to create an air of camaraderie with detectives.
7. Jennings knew details about the murder that only the killer would know:
- The argument here by prosecutors is essentially, because a witnesses to the crime did not have a weapon in his hand when police arrived, the witness must be guilty of assaulting the victim and hiding the weapon.
- The Three-Armed Assailant Theory. This is an incredible piece of conjecture that nearly defies logic. Prosecutors contend that the crime was committed by a person who, in a single, momentary encounter:
- Assaulted the victim with a flashlight blow to the head.
- Sexually assaulted the victim by pulling her tube top down.
- Methodically shot the victim (with precision shots from an upright position, through a partially open car window).
- If this version of events was true, the assailant would have had a flashlight in one hand, a gun in another hand, and been able to pull at her tube top and steal her phone with yet “another” hand.
- Mr. Jennings’ flashlight was in his car on the night of the crime and in it was not until 2007 that the flashlight was confiscated by investigators and subjected to forensic testing. No evidence was found on the flashlight.
- Last, and most importantly, the medical examiner testified that the flashlight did not match the head wound and that the wound was more consistent with the barrel of a gun. Incredibly however, prosecutors still pointed to the “missing flashlight” as further evidence of Jennings’ guilt and this “evidence” was cited by the appeals court in supporting their decision.
- a. Jennings knew the time O‘Keefe arrived at the parking lot upon her return from Los Angeles.
- Jennings originally stated that he did not see O’Keefe and Peterson arrive and did not know what time they arrived. He was first told about the arrival time (9:22 to 9:23 p.m.) by detectives Longshore and Harris during the first interview at his home.
- b. He knew that one gun fired all the shots.
- Seeing shell casings at the scene, all of the apparent same caliber, Jennings assumed there was one gun used (a reasonable assumption that anyone familiar with firearms would make). He never offered that he knew this for a fact.
- c. He knew the murder weapon‘s caliber.
- Jennings initial comments at the scene were that the shell casings appeared to be “.38 caliber or 9mm.” Later, at the scene, when Jennings asked Deputy Cox what caliber of weapon he thought was used, Cox replied, “9 millimeter.”
- In other words, Jennings did not know the caliber of the murder weapon.
- d. He correctly identified a gouge in the asphalt near the Mustang as caused by an errant, perhaps unplanned, misfire by the shooter before the shooter took aim at O‘Keefe.
- There is no evidence to show why the shooter fired into the ground. It may have been an intentional warning shot. Detectives, like Jennings, can only speculate as to why. This does not constitute “inside knowledge” on the part of detectives or of Jennings.
- Jennings initial comment at the scene was that it appeared the gunman had fired into the ground. He had no special knowledge” as to why.
- When asked by detectives to “guess,” Jennings offered that it was probably an accidental shot, which happened to match what detectives believed.
- e. He accurately described the sequence of bullets as later established by the autopsy.
- Jennings was asked by detectives to speculate on the order of the shots. While Jennings did say that he thought the shot to the chest was the first shot, he also mistakenly identified the blunt force trauma wound to O’Keefe’s forehead as a gunshot wound.
- Jennings’ misinterpretation about the nature of O’Keefe’s wounds demonstrates clearly that he had no “inside knowledge.”
- f. He knew O‘Keefe had not been raped.
8. The shooter displayed a special, skilled marksmanship as the kind Army National Guard soldiers are taught. Specifically, members of the military are taught to shoot first at a target‘s upper body because it offers a large surface area to hit. If shots to the upper body do not incapacitate the target, members of the military are taught to shoot at the target‘s head. (This testimony was offered by a “firearms expert” called by the prosecution).
- Jennings did not know this. In a police interview, when asked to speculate as to the nature of the crime, Jennings said that because of the way she was dressed and the fact that her tube top was askew, he thought it may have been a sexual assault gone bad. Any “knowledge” Jennings possessed as to whether there had been a rape was only gained long after the news media had aired and published many stories about the crime.
Additionally, the type and sequence of bullets used showed sophistication involving firearms. The shooter used two types of bullets: The first two, the first of which was apparently misfired into the ground and the second into O‘Keefe‘s chest, were hollow point bullets, which flare out upon impact to cause greater incapacitating trauma; the last three, which were aimed at O‘Keefe‘s head, were full metal jacket bullets. For someone experienced with guns through military training, the sequence of two hollow point shots, one of which was aimed at O‘Keefe‘s chest, followed by three full metal jacket shots to her head, was not by chance. (This testimony was offered by the same “firearms expert” called by the prosecution).
- The United States Army instructs everything in accordance with Field and Technical Manuals. Army Field Manuals 23-9 (M16) and 23-35 (M9 handgun) instructed soldiers to engage targets at “center mass” of the torso. There is no documented instance that we can find where the Army ever taught soldiers to shoot first at the torso and then at the head.
- Jennings was not trained in the Army on the 9 millimeter handgun, but on the M16 rifle. Mr. Houchin did not request Jennings’ military training records which would have supported this fact
- This testimony by Officer Michael Winter, a so-called firearms expert with the LA County Sheriff's Department is not only extremely prejudicial, it is factually wrong, could have been easily contradicted, and should have been strongly objected to, challenged and rebutted by the defense. Mr. Houchin did not challenge or refute this testimony nor offer expert testimony in support of the defendant.
- Until 2010, the use of hollow-point ammunition was expressly prohibited by the United States Army. In the year 2000, Army training did not include the use of hollow point ammunition.
- There is evidence to suggest a more credible expert would disagree with the state's expert. The opinion of a nationally recognized criminal profiler directly disputes the opinion of the prosecution witness that the shooter was highly skilled and deliberate. In a 2006 episode of Body of Evidence, titled “Deadly Delivery,” a pizza delivery man was killed by both hollow point and full-metal jacket bullets fired from the same gun. Retired FBI profiler, Dayle Hinman, said the use of both hollow point and full-metal jacket bullets in one shooting would indicate a “youthful offender” or someone who gets their ammunition “wherever they can find it.” When the killer was finally identified, her assessment proved correct.
- This testimony, also given by Michael Winter is extremely prejudicial and is factually wrong. It could have been easily contradicted. It should have been strongly objected to, challenged and rebutted by the defense. Mr. Houchin did not challenge or refute this testimony nor offer expert testimony in support of the defendant.
From the discussion of evidence presented against Raymond Jennings, it is clear that not only is there no evidence linking him to the crime, the circumstantial evidence amounted to prejudicial conjecture that in many cases was false and in others, severely strains credibility.
There is absolutely no evidence of sexual assault. The fact that O’Keefe’s tube top was pulled partially down could have easily indicated a struggle with someone trying to grab her cell phone from her. This scenario could also, very likely account for the blood under O’Keefe’s fingernails and would definitely account for her missing cell phone.
Testimony of Mark Safarik: Safarik concluded, primarily on the evidence that O’Keefe’s tube top was askew, that sexual assault was the likely motive. He further concluded that since there was an (unarmed) security guard on duty (Jennings), it was unlikely another (armed) person would commit such a crime.
Even though Jennings’ foot patrol took him at times nearly a quarter-mile from the crime scene, and even though there were plenty of dark perimeter areas for an offender to lie in wait (such as the location of O’Keefe’s attack), and even though the attacker was armed where the security guard was unarmed, Mr. Safarik still ruled out the likelihood that anyone but the security guard committing the crime.
Safarik’s testimony amounted to an opinion that relied on no special insight that would be expected from an “expert,” and was highly prejudicial.
Testimony of Victoria Richardson: Richardson’s account of events defies logic. With four people sitting in the car, it is incredible to believe that they “heard someone trying to pry their car door open, yet none saw anyone. Further, Richardson gave an extremely detailed description of the black Toyota and driver leaving the scene, even though, looking in her rear view mirror, she would have only seen headlights and then possibly a fleeting glance as the driver turned and drove eastward. And sitting only about 30 yards from a moving assault, complete with a car alarm, gunfire, and a rolling vehicle, the only thing she recalled was hearing a car alarm and “tapping” sound. In fact, her description of seeing this Toyota drive right through the crime scene, past a bloody O’Keefe in the Mustang, without stopping is so implausible that it seems as if she was the one trying to mislead detectives, not Jennings.
Her account of seeing a security guard walk past “2 minutes” before hearing the tapping noise is also suspect given that she said the security car arrived “4 minutes” later. Evidence shows that it was over 10 minutes from the time of the shooting until supervisor Malone arrived at the Mustang.
Richardson also said that she looked in her rear view mirror and saw a security car with flashing lights go by. That would have taken the security car along Route H, on the map, which contradicts other testimony that supervisor Malone drove along Path K, never passing Richardson’s position.
It is interesting also, that when she was leaving the Park-N-Ride, Richardson contacted Jennings from 107 feet away, the same distance she had been from the crime. She obviously felt comfortable asking a question from that distance, but only moments earlier, she was unable to hear gunshots from the same distance.
Further, what were Richardson and her associates doing in the Park-N-Ride that night? Richardson was a known drug user and her testimony should have been suspect from the beginning, not only by the defense, but by detectives. Did the detectives ever investigate Richardson and her associates? Was the DNA profile ever checked against her male associates? Also, I am not aware of any acoustic tests having ever been done to verify whether or not she would have heard the gunshots but this certainly should have been demanded by the defense.
Eventually, Richardson would be convicted of felony cocaine trafficking in a separate case and sentenced to prison. #
Considering Richardson’s proximity to the crime scene, her implausible testimony, her likely invention of a fake vehicle (the black Toyota), and her involvement in drugs, she and her associates would seem much more likely suspects than Jennings.
Prosecution of Jennings: In 2005, the parents of Michelle O’Keefe with the assistance of their attorney, R. Rex Parris and his associate, private investigator Jim Jeffra, assembled a collage of sound-bites compiled in a PowerPoint presentation. This mosaic of sound-bites included several false, implausible or contradictory statements by Jennings taken from the many, many hours of police interviews with him and the taped deposition he gave in the civil case. They presented the PowerPoint presentation to D.A. Foltz who, lacking any other evidence, agreed to file charges against Jennings. In fact, at the time, Foltz told a reporter: “I can't put my finger on precisely what the difference is, but it was clear we had a file-able case.”
In ignoring the complete body of statements made by Jennings, possible exculpatory evidence and the presence of other likely suspects, the D.A. selectively assembled small bits and pieces of statements which when viewed together made Jennings appear to be the killer. Where it suited their purposes, they would argue that Jennings was both a liar (for instance, when he told of seeing soldiers killed in training accidents), and a truth-teller (for instance, when he said he saw a pulse in O’Keefe’s neck and her hand twitching). In fact, prosecutor Michael Blake even argued at trial: “The evidence in this case will absolutely show that Raymond Lee Jennings is telling a series of lies to begin to direct attention away from himself. You’ll see that they’re mixed in with grains of truth. The problem is, with those grains of truth, they’re also the truths that we know only the killer would know.” This is a stunning admission by Blake that the prosecution selectively presented, what he referred to as, “grains of truth” from the hours and hours of interviews Jennings gave to police.
Piece by piece, when carefully examined, the evidence against Jennings falls apart. As noted in the Discussion, most of the circumstantial evidence presented against Jennings amounted to conjecture and was in some cases, just false: that the incident was a “sexual assault;” that Jennings “knew” things he should not have known; that there was a deliberate nature to the placement of shots and type of ammunition used that would be “characteristic” of someone with military training; that Jennings knew the time of O’Keefe’s arrival and the fact that she had not been raped.
Many aspects of this case, rather than point to Jennings’ guilt, actually point to his innocence.
Finally, consider the scenario presented by prosecutors: On the evening of February 22, 2000, Ray Jennings, a family man with no criminal history, serving honorably in the United States Army, decides that on his second night as an unarmed security guard, he is going to arm himself with a 9mm handgun (that no one knows he has) in hopes of committing an armed rape. Within seconds of moving her car to Position B, O’Keefe was accosted by Jennings who, with a gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other hand, was bent on a sexual assault. In a momentary encounter, Jennings hits O’Keefe in the head with his flashlight, grabs at her tube top, shoots her, steals her cell phone and calls his supervisor to report “shots fired.” All the while, Victoria Richardson and three other people sit only 107 feet away and do not see anything. Richardson’s claim that she saw nothing was not even questioned, yet Ray Jennings’ claim that he could not see the shooter from 400 feet away and without his glasses was totally dismissed and refuted by prosecutors. It is one of the most bizarre and unbelievable recreations of a crime one can imagine. The “evidence” in this case is far more supportive of a robbery or carjacking scenario committed by an inexperienced offender as it is of a sexual assault committed by someone with “sophisticated” military training. Since Richardson and her companions were “partying” in a nearby car, it seems unlikely that anyone other than someone associated with Richardson’s group would commit such an assault. In fact, she may well be the key to finally unlocking this tragedy. In all probability, the events of that night occurred exactly as Jennings reported. At the very least, Ray Jennings has been convicted on evidence that should have never been allowed at trial. At worst, it appears that an innocent man may have spent the last seven years in prison, a victim of overzealous and unprofessional prosecution. Frankly, as a citizen of this country and someone who has stood in defense of our freedom, I am shocked and angered that any judge would let this type of case proceed. Thank you, Errol R. Brownerrol.email@example.com
- Jennings had no criminal history.
- Jennings immediately called “shots fired” to All Valley dispatch and did not report knowledge of any victim.
- Blood DNA evidence from the victim excludes Jennings as the contributor.
- No scratches or wounds were found on Jennings.
- No gunpowder residue or blood spatter was found on his clothing.
- Jennings was never found to be in possession of a 9mm handgun or 9mm ammunition and was never connected to such a weapon.
- Jennings never refused to give an interview to police and willingly submitted to a polygraph test.
- Jennings misidentification of the blunt force trauma wound as a gunshot wound indicates he had no direct knowledge of how the crime occurred.
Comments or Questions?