Falsely accused veteran finally exonerated

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Fresh out of the military

Raymond Jennings had just gotten out of the United States Army National Guard and a tour in Iraq when he came back home. He needed a job, and was given employment as a night watchman at a Park n’ Ride in Antelope Valley in California. Things seemed to be looking up for the veteran, but then, something happened in that parking lot which would change his life, and the lives of so many others, forever.

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Worst feels realized

Raymond Jennings was a lot more quiet since he came back from his tour of duty in Iraq. He had been in firefights and war, and was ready to come back to the United States and relax in the paradise that is the state of California. He wanted to get back into civilian life and work a job which would enable him to get re-adjusted to that lifestyle. But then, one cold February night, his worst fears happened.

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Kid Rock girl

One day, Michelle O’keefe drove out to Los Angeles in her new blue Mustang. She was a popular, well liked, and gorgeous college student who was 19 years of age. Michelle was young, happy, and full of life. That was one of the reasons she was driving out to Los Angeles – she had been picked to be in a Kid Rock music video which was being filmed in the city. And she was extremely excited for being picked to be in it.

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Getting on camera

Michelle drove her brand new Mustang – which was a gift her parents had gotten her – all the way to Los Angeles. She drove to the Park N’ Ride, parked her car, and then got into the car of a friend of hers who was also picked to be in the video. The video was being shot in the Olympic Auditorium in the city, and the two changed into their club attire for Kid Rock’s Bawitdaba music video. The two even managed to get screen time just to themselves.

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Changing for class

The two came back from their successful video shoot, and Michelle’s friend drove to Michelle’s car so that Michelle could get in and follow her out. Michelle’s friend was in a hurry and didn’t check to see if Michelle had even turned on her car before her friend simply left. Michelle, needing to go to a night class a few hours later, decided to drive to a dark spot and change her clothes for class.

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Shots fired

Michelle was sitting in her car and changing her clothes in the front seat of the vehicle. Then – according to witness testimonies – a man pulled up to the side of the mustang, got out of the car, and fired into the car four times, with each one of the bullets hitting Michelle. The man then got into a car and drove off. Michelle’s friend either didn’t hear or didn’t care about the gunshots, and kept driving. But there was at least one other person in the car that night – Raymond Jennings.

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Back in Iraq

Ray was walking around and close to the bus stop directly outside the Park N’ Ride when heard heard both the gunshots as well as a car alarm being set off. His training took over, and he immediately sought cover behind his own car. He waited until the firing had stopped, and he peeked around his vehicle. All at once, the sound of the car alarm as well as the gunshots ceased. He then heard a car start.

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Calling his superior

Raymond immediately popped up on his feet and started running in the direction of the gunshots in order to help whoever it was who had just been ambushed. More shots were fired, and Ray dove for cover. Peeking from out behind where he was crouched, he began to see a new blue mustang begin to roll backwards, with the driver limp and draped over the steering wheel. It was Michelle. He then implemented the standard operating procedure, and called his supervisor.

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Checking the car

Raymond called up Iris Malone who was His supervisor and let her know what had jsut transpired. She got to where Ray was and he showed her the blue Mustang. Ray said that he hadn’t moved or touched anything at all and was waiting for her to decide what to do. Iris wanted to go up to the car and check it out, while Ray wanted to call the cops. Iris yelled at Raymond enough to convince him to go check out the car.

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The silent witness

Unbeknownst to the two parking lot attendants, there was another person in the parking lot the whole time watching as the events unfolded. This woman, named Victoria Richardson, had seen the entire incident play out, but had remained quiet and still throughout the entirety of the event, afraid to draw attention to herself. Ray and his supervisor had no idea that she was hiding out in her car.

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Where’s the cell phone?

A couple hours passed before police finally arrived at the scene. Detectives Diane Harris and Richard Longshore were there to investigate, and found not only Michelle’s body, but her wallet with $111 inside and her change of clothes. However, they were unable to locate the woman’s cell phone. After questioning both Raymond and Iris, the detectives decided to release the two. However, the detectives had some doubts about Jennings.

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How did he know?

The issue at hand with Jennings was that after witnessing such a traumatic event, he was able to think clearly and calmly relate exactly what had happened. He was able to speculate on things that only the killer would have known, but which Jennings said he discovered only after his own investigation. The investigators wondered how a war veteran who had been in a firefight was able to draw so many correct conclusions after seeing Michelle’s bullet wounds?

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Sentencing

Overlooking his military record and the fact that he had been in firefights before and thus knew what a bullet wound looked like, the investigators decided that Jennings had been the one who had committed the crime, based solely on being able to read the crime scene. No physical evidence linked him to the murder, but it did not matter. After two deadlocked trials, Raymond Jennings was finally put in jail for 40 years.

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Dateline special

Dateline NBC had a two hour special on the entire affair back in April of 2010, a year after Jennings was convicted and sent to jail. The episode, called “The Girl with the Blue Mustang,” was so loved by NBC audiences and received such great ratings that it was aired several times. It was already a famous case in the United States, and people couldn’t get enough of it. However, following the special, multiple people believed Jennings may be innocent.

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Growin support

Social media pages were opened for him, and crowdsourcing platforms were used in order to try and pay for as well as garner public support for a fourth retrial. People said that Ray Jennings was a war hero, and that it was not just to have Jennings locked up behind bars. 200 people came out as publicly supporting Jennings, but it would be a man named Clinton Ehrlich who believed he could prove that Jennings was an innocent man.

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Didn’t sit right

Clinton, a smart guy, was watching the Girl in the Blue Mustang episode on Dateline NBC when he realized that the facts just did not seem to be adding up. In interviews with both Raymond Jennings as well with close associates, it did not seem like the police had gotten everything right. So Clinton went to ask his dad about the case. It just so turned out that Clinton’s dad was Jeffrey Isaac Ehrlich, a big name prosecutor.

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Case reopened

Meanwhile, Raymond Jennings was trying to file appeals to get out of prison. After several attempts his hopes were dashed, with each request being answered with a resounding NO. but then Jeffrey Ehrlich reopened the case in October 2015. Clinton wrote a letter which was 34 pages long requesting the Los Angeles District Attorney to reinvestigate, and describing the weak evidence used to imprison Jennings.

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New interviews

The District Attorney read Clinton’s letter and decided to open the case back up in order to reexamine the evidence. It turns out that no one had bothered to interview or call upon the only other witness to the murder – Victoria Richardson. She was close enough to the incident to say that Jennings wasn’t actually the shooter, and could even name the make and model of the killer’s getaway car.

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The public demands answers

The young Ehrlich claimed that the authorities immediately picked Jennings as the killer, and ignored anyone who could have said anything to the contrary. He was a quiet guy after the war, and they felt that he wouldn’t put up much of a fight. And when a beautiful affluent woman gets murdered, the public demands answers. Also, despite the fact that Jennings’ work colleagues were in gangs, no one bothered to check into them.

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Exoneration

Ray Jennings was finally exonerated after a new trial with all of the evidence at hand in November of 2016. The reason for the new trail was, according to the Deputy Los Angeles District attorney, because there was no longer any public confidence in the conviction. While this was great for Jennings as he could finally go back to be with his family, it means that Michelle’s real killer had a seven year head start running.

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A family’s pain

Michelle’s family was not happy about the verdict at all. They were absolutely sure that Raymond had killed Michelle, and could not believe that the alleged killer of their daughter was now free to walk the streets once again. They did everything they could to block his release, but to no avail. Raymond Jennings is a free man once again, and is getting right back on his feet.

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