This man wrote a desperate letter from prison and he was writing to tell a judge the same thing he has been saying for years: “I am innocent.” He begged the civil court judge to drop the wrongful death lawsuit filed against him by the family of the teenager he was convicted of killing.
In the six-page letter he filed, he criticized the homicide detectives and local attorney who helped put him in jail. He said that he was wrongfully accused and the mayor of Lancaster California has abused his power. Read on for the whole story.
1. War Veteran Living Peacefully
An Army National Guardsman and Iraq war veteran named Raymond Jennings was a quiet, unassuming man who had gotten a job at a local Park n’ Ride in California’s Antelope Valley. He had seen enough combat for a lifetime and just wanted to work his job without hassle.
He was just living a quiet and ordinary life until one chilly February night, a shocking event would change Raymond’s life forever.
2. Working Student
The beautiful and popular 19-year-old college student, Michelle O’ Keefe had everything going right in her life. In the morning of February 22nd, she had driven out to Los Angeles in her brand new blue Mustang, a gift from her parents, to appear in Kid Rock’s music video.
She dropped her car off at the local Park n’ Ride then rode in her girlfriend’s car for the rest of the trip to L.A. When the two arrived at L.A.’s Olympic Auditorium, they changed into club outfits required for the video. They got to work dancing as Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba” blasted through the speakers. Michelle and her friend got a few seconds of fame as they had a camera close up, right in front.
3. Stalked By A Creep
On their way back from L.A., Michelle’s friend dropped her off at the Park n’ Ride to pick up her car. Initially, she thought that her friend was right behind her, accompanying her out of the parking lot, but she left right away. Michelle drove to a darker area to change. She still had a night class to go to and her revealing music video outfit was not exactly school appropriate.
As she sat in her car, changing her outfit, someone approached the driver’s side window. The man, as witnesses would come to describe the attacker who shot Michelle four times before getting into a car and driving off. It appeared that the only other person in the parking lot that night was security guard Raymond Jennings.
4. Helplessly Attacked
Security guard Raymond Jennings was at the bus stop just outside Park n’ Ride when the attack happened. He suddenly heard a car alarm go off on the west end and then a gunshot. So he immediately knelt down behind his car because he’d been used to too many firefights in Iraq to panic. Not long, the car alarm went silent and he heard an engine start.
He tried to get up to go in the direction of the sound in case someone needed help. But more gunshots echoed and again ducked for cover. He jumped back behind his vehicle and looked around to see what might be happening. He then saw Michelle’s blue Mustang rolling backward on its own. The driver was unconscious and knew immediately something was very wrong.
5. The Aftermath
Raymond Jennings was shaken but decided to see if he could help whoever had been shot and assumed it must have been the driver of the Mustang. He wasn’t wearing his glasses but he could see that the driver was not looking good. He was quick to think and knew there was a procedure to follow so he called his supervisor.
After calling his supervisor, Iris Malone, to inform her what had happened, she arrived at Raymond’s location and he pointed out the Mustang to her. He told her that he had waited for her to arrive before investigating further. Raymond told his supervisor several times that they should call the police first and not go to the crime scene on their own. She insisted and they couldn’t believe what they saw when they came near.
6. Under Investigation
At the time of the incident, another driver, Victoria Richardson, had been parked in her gray car 100 feet away from the Mustang. She stayed quiet during the shooting but asked Raymond and the supervisor if there had been a shooting because she had heard shots and was terrified to leave her car. During that time, Raymond had not been aware that Victoria had seen the whole thing go down.
Three hours later, detectives Diane Harris and Richard Longshore arrived at the scene. They investigated the car and found Michelle O’ Keefe’s lifeless body, her wallet, and her clothes. The one item the police couldn’t find was her cell phone. The detectives questioned Raymond and his supervisor but let them go after. However, something about Raymond Jennings’ statement of the night’s events had the detectives troubled.
7. Too Much Details
What caught the detectives’ attention was the that he seemed to know too much about the details of the crime. According to police, Raymond Jennings knew things only the killer would know. When they interrogated him again, he said that he was only trying to help and that his theory only came from his own investigation of the tragic events.
The police then decided that this was enough proof that Raymond Jennings was the suspect, despite the fact that there was no physical evidence connecting him to Michelle O’ Keefe’s death and that no weapon had been recovered. The case was tried several times for a couple of years. The first two Los Angeles juries were locked on the case. But the third time with the jury in Lancaster, Michelle’s hometown, finally convicted Raymond Jennings and sentenced him to 40 years.
A year after Raymond Jennings was convicted, Dateline NBC aired a two-hour TV special entitled “The Girl with The Blue Mustang.” The initial report was well-received overall and was even aired multiple times. But there seemed to be a good amount of people who watched and now had serious doubts about Raymond’s verdict.
Facebook pages, GoFundMe websites, and other pages on the internet seemed to pop up overnight, defending that what had happened to Raymond Jennings was a blatant injustice. Over 200 supporters were now fighting for his release but none as hard as Clinton Ehrlich, who said he could prove that he was innocent.
9. Appeal For Freedom
Clinton Ehrlich, a bright young law student is the son of the prominent prosecutorial lawyer, Jeffrey Isaac Ehrlich. He was lazily watching an old episode of Dateline when he noticed something very strange about the case. The facts just weren’t adding up. Not only that, interviews with Raymond Jennings and his close associates showed a very different picture than the one the police saw. Clinton then decided to consult his father.
Raymond Jennings was filing several appeals from behind bars, but all of it were unsuccessful. Jeffrey Ehrlich helped get the case re-opened and helped his son construct their argument. In October 2015, Clinton wrote a 34-page letter to the Los Angeles District Attorney. He wrote them that he had discovered the flaws in the case and that the weak evidence was more than enough to have Raymond freed.
10. New Evidence
Clinton Ehrlich’s letter was reviewed by the District Attorney and decided to re-examine all of the so-called evidence in Raymond Jennings’ case. The new evidence showed that there were other people at the scene, including the often ignored Victoria Richardson, who was close enough to tell that Raymond Jennings was not the shooter.
Clinton continued to argue that the investigators failed to investigate into those other people and instead eyed Raymond, as their main suspect. He also added that one of the other parking lot workers had ties to street gangs and that police ignored that fact. Now it was time for the judges to decide.
11. Case Won
Justice was finally served when Raymond Jennings was released from prison in November 2016. The deputy district attorney of Los Angeles explained that “the people no longer have confidence in the conviction.” Raymond was extremely happy at the verdict, now his family and his children know that he isn’t a killer and that he’s innocent. Thanks to the Ehrlich’s effort, Raymond is now a free man and has cleared his name.
Unfortunately, that meant that the police were now looking for Michelle O’ Keefe’s real killer who is probably on the run.
12. Killer On The Loose
Unfortunately for Michelle’s family, they weren’t too happy about the verdict. They were 100% sure that Raymond Jennings shot their little girl. It was just hard for them to hear. It’s understandable of course because after believing for so long that justice had been served for Michelle, only to find that one day the guilty party is still out in the open. It looks like, for the meantime, the suffering will continue until Michelle O’ Keefe’s real killer is brought behind bars.
It’s a happy ending for one while a painful ending for the other. Raymond Jenning’s persistence and Clinton Ehrlich’s good deed gave Raymond and his family a second chance in life. Sadly, there are other convicted people who are truly innocent but didn’t have the same opportunity as Raymond did.
As for Michelle’s family, it will be difficult to find peace knowing that the real killer is still on the loose.