Dateline   |  April 07, 2014

The Girl With The Blue Mustang, Part 8

Had police been chasing the wrong man all along? Detectives are thrown for a loop in their investigation.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> month after month and a year became two and more and still her innocent face stared out of the photograph, but detective richard longshore could not clear the michelle o'keefe murder case. longshore was convinced raymond lee jennings was the killer, but until he uncovered more physical evidence that eliminated every other possible suspect, he couldn't make an arrest and especially not now, because a strange new phenomenon had developed and with it a slew of new suspects.

>> we had people confessing to it. youngsters, teenagers early 20s up in the antelope valley who were involved in drug trafficking , well, she was killed because she owed money to a dope dealer.

>> reporter: did he believe them? no, he didn't. but he still had to check them out. every one of them. why did they do that?

>> god knows. so we had to look at that and discount that and there were a lot of those kind of things. because if we don't do it the defense will bring it up as a shoddy investigation.

>> reporter: and remember jennings ' story about the red truck and two guys who came snooping around asking questions after the murder? checking them all out took months and hundreds of man-hours and the result, not a single one of them led anywhere. the only viable suspect was still raymond lee jennings . and then finally three years after michelle 's murder, longshore presented the case against jennings to district attorney robert falls .

>> i was convinced this guy did it but i saw there were extreme difficulties in the proof end of it. that there was some serious problems with the physical evidence in the case.

>> reporter: just wasn't any.

>> right, so i thought, well, let's wait on this one. we have other ones more urgent at this point so it got pushed aside.

>> reporter: the o'keefe family was devastated. they had been so sure that civil deposition would produce criminal charges. they were running out of options.

>> you know as long as there's breath in my lungs we're not going to give up until this thing is resolved.

>> yeah.

>> it's almost like there's a voice saying this hasn't been done. it needs to be completed.

>> reporter: that voice wouldn't stop. mike and pat o'keefe doggedly refused to take the advice of the world around them, which was to accept the inevitable and say, we've got to let it go.

>> no.

>> no.

>> no, a lot of people said, well, it's been a couple of years now, maybe you should just forget about it. you can't just forget about it.

>> reporter: was that why they kept paying for those billboards in the desert or why when the fourth anniversary approached the o'keefes responded to a caller.

>> i think a lot of folks thought the case was over and i had just gotten my private investigator's license. i decided i would branch out a little bit and i always like to investigate anyway. maybe a fresh pair of eyes wouldn't hurt.

>> reporter: his name was jim jeffra. would the o'keefes mind if he conducted his own investigation and from a very different point of view.

>> maybe raymond lee jennings did not kill her. i made a decision that i was going to do what i could do to prove that he didn't kill this girl and if we could get past that, then we could move forward and go after the person that did kill her.

>> reporter: there's an old saying that homicide detectives serve the dead and maybe it's true, jeffra went to the crime scene .

>> i saw the memorial and walked up and looked at it and i tapped the picture and just asked her, you know, michelle , i need a little help. help me. guide me in the direction i need to go.

>> reporter: then for months jeffra crisscrossed the antelope valley talking to people some who knew jennings and could support his story and poring over the aging crime reports especially the things jennings himself said about what happened and --

>> it just didn't make sense. it didn't add up the way he wanted it to add up. two and two wasn't making four.

>> reporter: he huddled with mike o'keefe and watched the videotaped interviews. they scrutinized his body language. they dissected every suspicious statement.

>> i'm an innocent guy at the wrong place at the wrong time.

>> reporter: they flagged all his inconsistencies.

>> it's in the video. find it. he is telling a story that just doesn't add up in these videos.

>> there is no way anybody is going to have that level of information certainly $6 an hour security guard won't have that level of information unless you were there.

>> there was no doubt in my mind, just no doubt. i think he killed michelle .

>> reporter: in other words, jeffra despite his best efforts to eliminate jennings as a suspect was now one more investigator at the very same frustrating dead end . virtual certainty of guilt, insufficient evidence to back it up. unless maybe there was something else that could be done with those hours and hours of videotapes. jeffra and o'keefe hatched a plan. what if they assembled a sound bite case against jennings in his very own words.

>> we put together a power point presentation and put all these video excerpts on all the times where jennings basically told the whole story, you know, on how it all happened.

>> reporter: the two men along with another private investigator and guidance from civil attorney rex parris strung together bits of sound --

>> i didn't see anybody come in during that time. i didn't see anybody drop anybody off.

>> reporter: bits of answers that seemed to show jennings knew so much about the crime.

>> what i seen that night, her pulse and fingers twitching.

>> reporter: he had to be guilty.

>> i don't know what to tell you. it wasn't me.

>> you have hours and hours of interviews that if you don't edit it and see the inconsistencies and point to this 30 seconds of film demonstrates he was there, you know, at the time the shot was fired, you're not going to get anybody in government to look at it.

>> reporter: of course it was a long shot and apparently it was going to miss. prime suspect raymond lee jennings was now lost to them. he had gone halfway around the world from the antelope valley . he was in iraq. jennings had volunteered for the national guard and in late 2004 was shipped off to the middle east where by all accounts he was a loyal and well-regarded soldier. hardly likely the d.a. would go chasing him there. and thus after five frustrating years, the o'keefes' quest to solve their daughter's murder was over, apparently hopeless unless -- mike o'keefe had one last unconventional idea, foolish probably, an amateur's unwelcome interference