Los Angeles County prosecutors will ask a judge Thursday to free a man convicted seven years ago of killing a college student, citing new doubts about his guilt.
Raymond Lee Jennings is serving 40 years to life in state prison following a 2009 conviction.
“My office has been presented with credible new evidence that brings this conviction into question,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement Wednesday.
Lacey said her office will ask a Superior Court judge to release Jennings, 42, on his own recognizance “in the interest of justice” while the DA’s Conviction Review Unit, formed last year, completes an investigation.
The DA’s office did not provide details of the new evidence. But Jennings’ attorney, Jeffrey Ehrlich, said the unit, at his request, had decided to reopen the murder investigation.
Only two men were at the scene at the time of the Feb. 22, 2000, killing in Palmdale, he said.
“They only investigated one man, Ray Jennings. They have finally decided to investigate the other one,” Ehrlich said Wednesday. “That reopened investigation has generated new leads that they are actively pursuing.”
The DA’s office has agreed that if the new investigation finds nothing tying Jennings to the killing, in 60 days prosecutors will agree to have the court throw out his conviction, Ehrlich said.
Ehrlich said he was unsure whether Jennings was aware of the decision, but he has always proclaimed his innocence. “He’s been in prison for 11 years. It has been remarkable about how resilient he has been,” Ehrlich said.
Jennings was working as a security guard when Michelle O’Keefe, 18, was shot in a car in a park-and-ride parking lot in Palmdale, a desert town northeast of Los Angeles.
O’Keefe, a student at Antelope Valley College, had returned from Los Angeles where she had worked as an extra in a music video. She was shot several times.
Jennings, an Iraq War veteran with no criminal history who was studying to become a U.S. marshal, said he was 400 feet away when he saw O’Keefe’s car rolling backward and heard gunshots but said he never saw any attacker.
After two previous trials ended in deadlocked juries, Jennings was convicted of second-degree murder.
Members of O’Keefe’s family were on hand when Jennings was sentenced in 2010.
“I sit here as an innocent man,” Jennings told them, adding that “as Christ as my Lord and savior, I will stand before God and this is one sin that I will not be judged for.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Arthur Hartsock says
Mr. Jennings will get a chance to restart his life. And I’m sure that the 11 years he spent in prison will give him a perspective that few people have. Good luck, Mr. Jennings.
Arthur Hartsock says
And, Mr. Horn, why are you outraged if the evidence now leads the prosecutors to make this decision? I’m sure they’re not releasing a man that they know is guilty of murder. They’re releasing a man because the evidence is not-and never was-there.
Hilda E. Davis says
This information didn’t just come to the DA’s attention, they’ve known for years. This man spent far too many years in prison for a crime he didn’t do. Hopefully, they will get a true conviction this time, and I hope Mr. Jennings will sue for what he’s been through and the years of his life and his family’s that have been wrongfully lost.
I question why the other man hasn’t been investigated previously and charged with the murder charge before the release.
Just our politician’s at work again.
David Barron says
Mr. Jennings should be compensated by a tax free payment for wrongful arrest and imprisonment for the last 11 years at least by the average income rate for a citizen of that area, times two, plus all legal costs and retraining to enter society. That is the only just and fair thing to do for taking 11 years of a persons life away from them.