Ex-security guard convicted in Palmdale parking lot murder

By Jack Leonard
December 19, 2009

exsecurityguard

A former security guard accused of fatally shooting an 18-year-old college student in a Palmdale parking lot nearly a decade ago was convicted of murder Friday, authorities said.

The verdict caps a lengthy legal saga that began when Raymond Lee Jennings first reported finding Michelle O’Keefe’s body during a routine patrol of the park-and-ride lot.

Investigators found the victim, a student at Antelope Valley College, slumped in the front seat of her Ford Mustang. She had been shot four times in the chest and face.

Two previous trials ended with deadlocked juries. The case was moved earlier this year from downtown Los Angeles to Lancaster, where a third jury deliberated more than three weeks before rejecting first-degree murder charges and finding Jennings, 35, guilty of second-degree murder.

“I’m at a loss for words as to how thankful I am,” said Jason O’Keefe, who was 12 when his older sister was killed. “I’m extremely glad that . . . justice has taken place.”

Jennings is scheduled to be sentenced to 40 years to life in prison Jan. 22. His attorney, David Houchin, said Jennings, an Army National Guardsman and Iraq war veteran, is innocent and that he plans to ask a judge to order a new trial.

He said jurors were mistakenly given portions of transcripts from interviews given by his client that a judge had previously ruled could not be used during the trial.

Houchin said prosecutors failed to secure a conviction until the case was moved to a courthouse near where O’Keefe’s family lived and where the killing had provoked the most outrage.

“Justice has not been done,” he said.

O’Keefe was returning from Los Angeles where she had worked as an extra in a music video when she was shot on Feb. 22, 2000. The shooting occurred in the 100 block of East Avenue S, where she had left her car.

Detectives grew suspicious of Jennings when he told them the young woman was still alive when he found her but that he did not perform CPR because he feared contaminating the crime scene. But there was no physical evidence linking Jennings to the crime. No murder weapon was ever found.

O’Keefe’s parents rented billboards and adorned them with their daughter’s photo and the message: “I wasn’t ready to die . . . at 18. Can you help catch my killer?” They also filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Jennings, who gave a statement during a deposition in the case.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Blake argued that Jennings gave inconsistent accounts in various statements to detectives and in his deposition, and revealed details that only the killer would know, such as the order of the shots that were fired. The prosecutor said the security guard probably made an advance toward O’Keefe and was rebuffed, leading to a confrontation and then the shooting. “It’s an unspeakable crime for no good reason,” Blake said after the verdict.

Defense attorneys argued that Jennings was only speculating about the killing during his interviews and said he inaccurately described one of the victim’s wounds as a gunshot. Medical experts concluded that it was caused by a blow to the head.

Patricia O’Keefe, the victim’s mother, said she had lost her best friend as well as her daughter, but felt more at peace after Friday’s verdict. “I’m not as anxious knowing that Michelle can now rest in peace as well,” she said.

Posted by on Dec 19 2009. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

12 comments on “Ex-security guard convicted in Palmdale parking lot murder

  1. bustbacc on said:

    I knew the victims mother she used to be a health teacher at palmdale high Mrs. O'keefe. She was a good woman glad to hear this case coming to an end.

  2. dave on said:

    I saw the TV show last night and I;m not trying to say that the man convicted did not do it. What I’m trying to say is that if he did do it the show did an injustice trying convince the audience and that if this is our system than there is a large problem.
    the problems with the system:
    if it takes three weeks of deliberation for a trial that lasts a week or two, than isnt that in itslef some level of reasonalbe doubt.
    if the government doesnt like the outcome after two trials than the jurisdiction gets moved (you could have tried me from the east coast and eventually a jury would want to go home and convict me.

    problems with the show (obviously i wasnt at the trial:
    almost no mention of the weapon, was one ever registered or was he ever seen with one.
    has he ever assaulted woman in the past, the premise for this crime.
    why didnt the police ever eliminate him that night with a gun residue test as the only witness.
    why would someone commit this type of crime on the first few days on the new job.
    why did the occupants of the other car not come forward for months.
    his descritoon of the wounds; maybe he has experience with gunshot wounds from oversees.

    again, attacking the show not the actual outcome or the family, but i think a family can get so focused on an emotional level to want justice, it doesnt mean the focus of that anger is directed at the right person.

    • Christine on said:

      I think this girl was involved in drugs/was getting drugs at the time of her death. The druggies in the car partying were her source. Maybe lack of persecution in that direction was her parents choice to preserve her innocent image. It just seems too likely due to the circumstance and her re parking in the dark and them playing dumb….DA didn’t pursue any other suspects at the fathers request or once they learned too much
      Someone needs to dig deeper into Michelle’s life and friend/acquaintance circle. One of the people in the nearby car could have certainly shot her and taken off up that hill on foot while the others stayed and played dumb. The missing cell phone would indicate a phone call to the shooter who was meeting her there. She also had the persons DNA under her nails so she fought them and they misfired into the ground. Anyone looking into this???
      Free this poor innocent man and do a worthy job on this case please!!!!!

    • Christine on said:

      I think this girl was involved in drugs/was getting drugs at the time of her death. The druggies in the car partying were her source. Maybe lack of persecution in that direction was her parents choice to preserve her innocent image. It just seems too likely due to the circumstance and her re parking in the dark and them playing dumb….DA didn’t pursue any other suspects at the fathers request or once they learned too much

  3. Kathy on said:

    I also watched the Dateline show last night, and was left with a disturbed feeling that he should not have been found guilty on the evidence…not saying he didn’t do it, just that there was not sufficient evidence to convict. Also, at one point they gave a quick “teaser” about Michelle possibly owing someone for drugs but then they never went on to discuss it on the show. I got the feeling there is info about Michelle’s personal life that NBC did not present. They said she was very “religous”..yet she put on a a scanty outfit and danced in a Kid Rock video? That doesn’t add up.

  4. Steve on said:

    I know in the time frame it takes to do a two hour show on this type of case, there is major editing being done, so we as the viewers will never be able to say with absolute certainty if Jennings is or is not guilty.

    But as a viewer, I could not help but feel there is a piece of this puzzle missing.

    The biggest is the unknown DNA. If the police detective stated there were false confessions he had to check out to preserve the case, should he have followed the DNA lead, again, to preserve the case.

    Second, the fact the police say a “$6.00 and hour security guard” does not have the knowledge on forensics, well that may be true, but someone who is a soldier may have had the training to know what a gunshot wound and angle of the shot looks like. (I know a security guard who makes $10.00 per hour, and works there for health benefits. His regular job is the owner of 7 fast food franchises and his businesses make millions every year. So dont stereotype someones knowledge by their job.)

    I am curious to see if Dateline will follow his appeal process, and if they discover that barred evidence was given to the jurors, I wonder what impact that would have.

  5. Julie on said:

    Raymond Jennings is innocent…..

  6. Tracy on said:

    I have read both sides of this event extensively and I cant find any credible reasoning, evidence, or anything that would implicate this man for this crime. To me this is an outrage that is uncalled for look into Victoria Richardson thats where the answers lie in my opinion!

  7. rick allen on said:

    someday somewhere, michelle’s family is going to hear about the real perp that did it, somewhere the real murderer will slip up and give details to a third party that will turn him or her in, details that even ray didnt know and ray will be let go and dismissed of this murder he did not commit. then what are they going to tell him, “im sorry”? the murderer got away committing a near perfect crime and the truth will come out as to who the real murderer is. i do hope they order a new trial and hope new evidence pops up that clears this innocent person of this crime.

  8. rick allen on said:

    there was a brian kellogg that was a drug thug that alot of people were afraid of. a strong possibilty exists that she was indebted to this brian kellogg for drugs and was executed by brian kellogg while his get away driver jeremy macoy watched. on jerey’s dying bed he admitted he saw brian kellogg shoot michelle,and evidence was there that the shooter was left handed, brian kellogg is left handed, ray jennings is right handed. the family im sure caught wind of this damning evidence that shed light on thier daughters image and they didnt want drug evidence tarnishing her image and making her look bad when the real truth about the real murderer came to light. they knew brian kellogg was the killer, but yet to save thier daughters image and respect they continued with knowingly putting away an innocent person. michelles family were the ones that truely disrespected thier daughters image and death by doing the shameful act of falsely letting him to go to prison for someone elses crime to preserve a false good girlimage of michelle. ray jennings is right, he can go to prison with a clear conscious knowing he didnt commit the murder, now can the o’keefe family live their concscious for knowingly putting an innocent man behind bars for a minimum of forty years.

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