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The Girl With The Blue Mustang

A popular college freshman is gunned down in her car. Police had no clues: no fingerprints, no information about trouble in Michelle O'Keefe's life. Then an unexpected source emerges.
/ Source: Dateline NBC

KEITH MORRISON reporting: (Voiceover) On the day of her death, Michelle O’Keefe, 18 years old, college freshman, was in a wonderful mood. Her early morning class was over. She had been offered another film gig in LA that very afternoon, a walk-on role in a music video with Kid Rock. She aimed her parents’ gift, the shiny new blue Mustang, through the streets of the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles. She had less than 12 hours to live. Her mother, Pat O’Keefe, was just leaving the house.

(Photos of Michelle O’Keefe; Kid Rock performing; Mustang on road; photo of Pat and Michelle O’Keefe)

Ms. PAT O’KEEFE: She was pulling up as I was driving out, coming back from a college class. And so she waved and said hi with a big smile, like she always does.

(Voiceover) And I waved.

(Photo of Pat and Michelle)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: And she had told me she was going to do a shoot that afternoon, and that was the last time I saw her.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) It was February 22nd, 2000, a fine high desert morning, cool and clear, and the fresh, clean start of a brand-new millennium. A storm was due that evening.

(Sun; desert and town; vehicles on road; bird in flight)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: She goes, ‘I’m going down there.’ And I said, ‘You be right back?’ ‘Oh, I will. I will.’ I said, ‘Because you know the extra work is just for the side. Your college is more important.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) There was an evening class. Michelle promised she’d be back in time. After lunch she dropped her Mustang at the local Park and Ride and joined a girlfriend, Jennifer Peterson, also an extra, and they took Jennifer’s car on the happy ride south to LA’s Olympic Auditorium, where the girls changed into the sexy club clothes required for the video and settled in with the other extras. The lights came up, the music blared, the cameras rolled. Kid Rock was in fine form as he sang “Bawitdaba.” So were Michelle and her friend, caught by the cameras front and center.

(College campus; Mustang on road; photo of Michelle and Mustang; Park & Ride sign; photo of Michelle and Jennifer Peterson; busy highway; Kid Rock music video shoot)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) By the time shooting wrapped for the day, it was well after 7. Michelle was already running late for class. It was some 80 miles back up the highway to the Antelope Valley. She decided to change out of her provocative club clothes once she got to the Mustang, in the dark parking lot.  By now a cold wind was howling across the Park and Ride. It was almost 9:30.  Did she have a premonition? Did she know? Michelle’s friend dropped her at the Mustang, could have sworn she saw Michelle follow her out of the Park and Ride. She did not. It was at least quick, four bullets, almost like an execution. Local sheriff’s deputies arrived within minutes. A security guard reported he heard the four shots, but didn’t see anything. The cops scoured the parking lot. Maybe the killer was still here. No luck.

(Highway at night; windy parking lot at night; vehicle with lights on; Mustang in parking lot; vehicle in mirror; crime scene photos; Mustang; police at crime scene; foliage)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Two counties south of the Park and Ride, in the southern reaches of the great city, a phone call in the dark. Homicide Detective Richard Longshore fumbled for the phone.

(City at night)

Detective RICHARD LONGSHORE: (Voiceover) You’re waking up in the middle of the night. You’re rolling out.

(City at night)

Det. LONGSHORE: You’re thinking from the minute the phone rings as to what kind of scene it’s going to be. Actually, you look forward to it. That’s the adrenaline rush. It’s a new case.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But this new case had to wait a few extra hours.

Longshore lived in Huntington Beach, almost three hours away.

(Highway at night; Richard Longshore in vehicle; highway at night)

Det. LONGSHORE: It’s like 107 miles from my house. It’s like the backside of the moon.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) So by the time Longshore and his partner had arrived in the cold black of the parking lot, they were playing catch up and holding off, already, the curious media.

(Police at crime scene)

Det. LONGSHORE: (Press conference) It appears that she had sustained some trauma. We’re—this is obviously a homicide investigation. The investigation is just starting, and we have no other information at this time.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Here’s what they could see right away: one gunshot wound in the chest, probably fatal; three others to the head and neck. She also had a deep gash on her forehead, and one of her breasts were exposed.  Was it rape? Did not seem to be. It was obvious that her tube top had been pulled down, but it looked as if she’d been changing. Her jeans were on the seat beside her. Nor did it look like a robbery.

(People with flashlights at crime scene; X-rays; graphic of body; crime scene photos)

Det. LONGSHORE: Her purse was there containing well over $100. The only thing missing was her cell phone, and the purse was in plain view in her car.  Was this a carjacking? It’s not logical that a person would just sit there and then not take the car. It doesn’t fit.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) In the purse was Michelle’s ID. She lived just a few miles away. When sheriff’s deputies arrived middle of the night, they found Michelle’s parents, Mike and Pat O’Keefe, wide awake.

(Purse; driver’s license; house at night)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: Well, I knew sometimes those video shoots ran late, and I tried to call her a couple times and she didn’t answer. I figured she probably took her phone off and...

Mr. MIKE O’KEEFE: You were—you knew something had...

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: Yeah, I knew something had happened.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: It was kind of ironic because I woke up and I noticed she was crying in the end of the bed, and I said, ‘What the heck’s wrong?’ And she goes, ‘I know something’s happened to Michelle. I just know it.’

MORRISON: You had some kind of premonition that night?

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: I don’t know if it was her spirit that just came over me or something.

MORRISON: That night.

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: Just felt like she was gone. As I already told Mike, ‘She’s dead. I just have a feeling.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) It was 10 years ago, 2:00 in the morning, but Mike O’Keefe remembers word for word what the sheriff’s deputies said.

(House at night)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: ‘There’s been an accident.’ And I go, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I go, ‘Was Michelle in a wreck?’ And they go, ‘Well, not exactly.’ There’s been a—she’s been shot.’ And, of course, you know, chills went down my spine. I go, ‘Well, then she’s alive.’ And he goes, ‘Well, no.’ And that just really—when I heard those words, it just really just took all the feeling out of me basically.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Michelle’s younger brother Jason was awakened by the commotion.

(Photo of Michelle and Jason O’Keefe)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) I look up at the top of the stairway. Our 12-year-old son’s there.


Mr. M. O’KEEFE: So he comes down and we have to tell him, and that was just really horrible.

Mr. JASON O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) I saw both my parents in tears, and even the sheriff’s deputies were kind of tears.

(O’Keefe family photo)

Mr. J. O’KEEFE: And that’s when they had told me what exactly had happened.

MORRISON: No way to prepare yourself for news like that?

Mr. J. O’KEEFE: No. Never in wildest dream...

(Voiceover) ...could you imagine that. About 20 hours before that I was working on science project with her.

(Photo of Michelle and Jason)

Mr. J. O’KEEFE: And now she’s gone until the day I get to heaven.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Longshore and his partner scoured the scene for evidence. No sign of the weapon, no fingerprints, no footprints. And though the security guard had apparently heard gunshots, the detectives could not find a single eyewitness. All those cars, nobody there to see. Longshore, a veteran detective, knew already this would be a tough case. But, of course, he did not know on that cold, windy night that the murder of Michelle O’Keefe was about to consume exactly one full decade of his life, or that this young, innocent victim had actually predicted her own death.

(Police at crime scene; Longshore making statement; police at crime scene; cross with photo of Michelle on it)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) And she goes, ‘You know, I’ve had a strange feeling, Dad, that I’m not going to live much longer.’

(Family photo)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) A premonition of death and a fear of murder.

(Photo of Michelle and Mustang; license plate)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: She goes, ‘Dad, that’s the police code for homicide.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Did Michelle know something that could lead to her killer? When The Girl with the Blue Mustang continues.

Det. LONGSHORE: (Voiceover) It was a brand-new Ford Mustang.

(Police vehicles at crime scene; photo of Mustang)

Det. LONGSHORE: It was bright blue, real pretty car.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) The stage on which the last moments of Michelle O’Keefe’s life played out was, if nothing else, dramatic.

(Police at crime scene; photo of Michelle; police at crime scene)

Det. LONGSHORE: It was the most outstanding vehicle in the parking lot. In terms of just looking at it, you just—you’d gravitate toward that car because of its appearance.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And now it was a crime scene. Detective Richard Longshore scoured every blue, shiny inch of that Mustang looking for apparently nonexistent evidence.

(Police at vehicle)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Fashion show) Model number 16 is Michelle O’Keefe.

Unidentified Woman #2: (Fashion show) Yay, Michelle.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And if her car was almost new, well, she was, too.

Just 18, just starting a life.

(Fashion show; Michelle opening card)

Ms. M. O’KEEFE: (Home videotape) It’s New Year’s 1999.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) The Mustang, two months earlier, was a Christmas present in this, her first year as a college student. At high school she’d been a star student, a popular cheerleader.

(Photo of Michelle and Mustang; cheerleaders; cheerleaders practicing)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) Michelle had a great heart. She was nice to everybody. She was friends with all the different groups of people, not just cheerleaders.

(Photos of Michelle)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: She always thought of other people first.

Ms. M. O’KEEFE: (Home videotape) It’s so hard to imagine how I video something.

Mr. J. O’KEEFE: She’s always there for others.

(Voiceover) That was one thing that I could always count on her is if I ever needed anything, it was only a cell phone call away.

(Photo of Michelle and Jason)

Ms. M. O’KEEFE: (Home videotape) But whenever you’re not grounded, call me.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And here was the weird thing: Nothing about what happened made any sense. Michelle, of all people, lived a low-risk life. She was popular at school, devoted to her family, and quite deeply religious. She was certainly not a party girl. There were no boyfriends to attract suspicion. No enemies at all. Certainly not someone who’d want to kill her.  But there was one little quirk in her otherwise optimistic life. Michelle had a rather strange premonition that she occasionally shared with her family.

(Police at crime scene; Michelle sitting basketball court; cheerleaders;

Michelle and mom at table; Michelle; photo of girls being kissed on cheek; photo of Michelle and others; family photo)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: And she goes, ‘You know, I’ve had a strange feeling, Dad, that I’m not going to live much longer.’ And I said—and it just sort of, you know, set me back. And I said, ‘Wait a minute now, is there somebody bothering you?’ And she goes, ‘No, nothing’s going on. I just—I’ve had this feeling that I’m not going to be around much longer.’

Mr. J. O’KEEFE: She’d always bet me that she was going to die before me. I was like, ‘Well, how are we going to pay each other?’ She goes, ‘Once we get to heaven, we’ll give each other the money.’


Mr. J. O’KEEFE: You know, we just kind of joked around about it. And then, little did I know, a year later she’d be gone.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Then something truly odd. Soon after she got that Mustang, the license plates arrived in the mail.


Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) And she came to me, and the last three digits on the license plate were 187.

(License plate)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: And she goes, ‘Dad, I don’t want to put these on my car.’

MORRISON: One-eight-seven.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: And I said—I didn’t know what a 187 was. I go, ‘What’s a 187?’ She goes, ‘Dad, that’s police code for homicide.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Whatever it was Michelle sensed, whatever the danger she imagined might be out there, she was apparently ready for it.

(License plate; Michelle in vehicle; photo of Michelle)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) I used to always tell her to be careful, Michelle, because she was so pretty and guys might try to make advances.

(Photo of Michelle)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: And she said, ‘Well, don’t worry, Mom. I won’t let anybody take me away. I’d rather die than be raped.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Now, as Michelle lay dead in her car, purse at her side, nothing stolen, Detective Longshore took another look at the way the killer left her.

(Crime scene photos)

Det. LONGSHORE: Her blouse, or her tube top had been dislodged, exposing portions of her breasts.

MORRISON: This may have been an attempt at a sexual assault.


MORRISON: (Voiceover) Had Michelle fought valiantly for her life as she once told her mother she would if attacked? But who fired the gun, four shots almost point blank? And why here in this most remote of parking lots?  Perhaps there was a clue, something Michelle herself mentioned months earlier, just a hint really. But could it lead to her killer?

(Police at crime scene; license plate and gun; crime scene; parking lot at night; Mustang in parking lot)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Coming up, what Michelle told her father about that Park and Ride lot.

(Photo of Michelle; parking lot)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) She goes, ‘Oh, you don’t have to worry about the Park and Ride now, Dad. They got guards.’

(Security vehicle only sign; person walking)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Does that mean someone knows something about Michelle’s murder? When DATELINE continues.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) They were dreadful, dark hours, middle of the night, as the O’Keefes absorbed the news: Michelle murdered. Of course their minds went to that strange premonition. Just months earlier she’d actually predicted her own death, had fretted about that license number, 187, the police code for murder. And as he thought about that, Michelle’s father’s tortured mind suddenly flashed back to something else she once said, that time to allay her parents’ concern for her safety, something about that Park and Ride lot.

(House at night; photo of Michelle; crime scene photos; Park and Ride sign; parking lot; Michelle and woman; license plate; parking lot at night; photo of Michelle; parking lot)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) She goes, ‘Oh, you don’t have to worry about the Park and Ride now, Dad. They got guards.’

(Parking lot; security vehicle only sign)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: So kind of odd, but almost the minute after the police told us where she’d been killed, I said, ‘Well, wait a minute. They got security guards there. That, you know, didn’t the guard see something or intervene?’ And he goes, ‘No, he was on the other end of the parking lot.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) In fact, here’s the same guard a couple of nights later, patrolling the Park and Ride just as he had that fatal evening when Michelle was killed. Lead detective Richard Longshore was eager to get his help.

(Person walking; police vehicle)

Det. LONGSHORE: (Voiceover) The patrol officer said, ‘Oh, we interviewed him briefly to find out what he saw, and also if there’s any suspects that he could provide a description of’...

(Person walking in shadow)

Det. LONGSHORE: they could get a broadcast out and try to apprehend him.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Interviewed again, security guard Raymond Lee Jennings was very cooperative and talkative. He was an Iraq war vet, a National Guardsman, married with several children. It was only his second night at the Park and Ride, assigned to a foot patrol, roaming the lot until dawn.

(Man by police vehicle; photo of Raymond Lee Jennings; Jennings walking)

Det. LONGSHORE: (Voiceover) He said that he had been walking his post and had seen the Mustang during his course of his duties...

(Jennings walking)

Det. LONGSHORE: early as 9:00.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) After all that bright blue car was so pretty, so attractive, it was something he’d love to own himself one day. That’s why he remembered so clearly seeing it, he said, during his rounds at 9 PM. Then he said he continued round the lot and returned to his post, which was his own car, up a slight hill overlooking the rest of the lot. It was just before 9:30, he said. He was about 350 feet from Michelle’s Mustang, and a car alarm went off.

(Mustang on road; Mustang in parking lot; parking lot at night; vehicle; parking lot at night; parking lot lights)

Det. LONGSHORE: And he said that he recognized that as being a Mustang alarm and he heard the engine racing.

(Voiceover) And he walked back towards his car and heard a single gunshot. He took cover and looked up and saw the Mustang rolling backwards, with additional shots being fired, until it came to a rest at the top of the planter.

(Parking lot at night; Mustang; crime scene photo)

MORRISON: Then what? Did he rush down and see what happened?

Det. LONGSHORE: No, he didn’t. He said he called for help, and he expressed a fear that the shooter was still there, and he was unarmed. He didn’t have a firearm. It was an unarmed guard post.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) A few minutes later help arrived, Jennings’ supervisor, who rushed to Michelle’s car while Jennings remained at his post.

(Emergency lights; Mustang; vehicle)

MORRISON: Did he see anybody else there?

Det. LONGSHORE: No, he didn’t see anybody at all.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) It was understandable, certainly, that Jennings was concerned about approaching a scene with a gun going off, especially since a weapon was not part of his uniform. Eventually Jennings did wander down to the crime scene to join his supervisor, a few minutes before the cops arrived, but at no time did he catch a glimpse of the killer, which, of course, would have made all the difference in the world. So Jennings wasn’t much help.  Longshore sent him home.

(Parking lot; photo of Jennings; crime scene; police vehicle and Jennings;

Jennings walking in parking lot)

Det. LONGSHORE: I wanted to get him home, get rested, and I could interview him again at another time.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) As dawn approached, most of the physical evidence was recovered. It wasn’t much to go on.

(Police at crime scene)

Mr. MARK SAFARIK: We didn’t really have any forensic evidence that said, you know, linked distinctively to a particular individual.


(Voiceover) Mark Safarik is a former FBI profiler who consulted on the case.

(Mark Safarik sitting at desk)

Mr. SAFARIK: (Voiceover) We had forensic evidence. You know, we had bloodstain analysis. We had blood—forensic bloodstains. We had bullets. We had shell casings.

(Crime scene photos)

Mr. SAFARIK: But, you know, we don’t have like a fingerprint that says, ‘Oh, this belongs to this guy’ or, ‘There—this person’s DNA is at the scene and it belongs to this guy.’ We don’t have that in this—in this case.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But there was somebody else to interview, the last person to see Michelle alive, her best friend, Jennifer Peterson.

(Photo of Michelle and Peterson; photo of Peterson)

Det. LONGSHORE: And when I talked to her the night of the murder, she was so distraught I decided to delay the interview for a couple of days.

(Voiceover) Then drove her out to the scene and asked her to show us exactly where she had been, what she had done.

(Longshore in vehicle)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But when they got to the parking lot where Michelle was found, Detective Longshore was in for a surprise.

(Parking lot)

Det. LONGSHORE: I said, ‘OK, and this is where Michelle’s car was.’ She says, ‘Well, no, it wasn’t.’

(Voiceover) I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And she goes, ‘Yeah, we parked it under a light deliberately’ because she was concerned about her vehicle’s safety.

(Parking lot light; Mustang in parking lot)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) That is, when Michelle parked her car in the afternoon, before heading to the Kid Rock shoot, she made sure it was in a safe, brightly lit spot. But that night when she was found dead in the car, it was in a different place altogether.

(Animation of parking lot and Mustang; crime scene photo)

Mr. SAFARIK: It was initially parked about 17 spaces down from where it was found...

(Voiceover) ...because Jennifer says, ‘When we came into the lot, we pulled up. This is where her car was. We dropped it off here.’

(Animation of Mustang and parking lot)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) That’s when Michelle got in her Mustang, right under that bright light post, and started backing out, and Jennifer, assuming Michelle was right behind her, drove away. But Michelle didn’t leave.  Instead, apparently, she moved to another space away from the lights. Looking back, Jennifer now realized why Michelle had not immediately left the lot.

(Animation of Mustang and parking lot)

Mr. SAFARIK: Michelle was pretty scantily clad in a tank—a tube top and a short skirt and she was going to class. So she didn’t want to go to class like that. She’s brought a pair of jeans she’d planned to change into, and Jennifer said, ‘Well, she probably pulled into a dark area so she could change.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) That new space was between two other vehicles, a perfect place to discreetly change and quickly leave.

(Animation of Mustang and parking lot)

Mr. SAFARIK: But Michelle never got the chance to even start to change into her black jeans because she gets confronted by someone.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Confronted by the shooter who fired off those four fatal rounds and then managed to escape the parking lot and disappear into the desert without a soul seeing it, or her. Detectives were stumped. Of course they didn’t know, not yet, that there was another witness in the Park and Ride that night, someone who would soon reveal the most unlikely of suspects.  Coming up...

(Mustang in parking lot; foliage; police at crime scene)

Det. LONGSHORE: (Voiceover) Mr. Jennings said, ‘Well, a red truck with two guys in it came up to me and asked me if I was the guard on duty.’

(Photo of Jennings; vehicle)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) The security guard’s possible lead to a killer when The Girl with the Blue Mustang continues.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Two nights after Michelle’s murder, the Park and Ride lot was still crawling with cops searching for clues—the gun, maybe a footprint, a witness, anything. And? They found nothing. The only witness to surface so far was also at the lot and on duty, security guard Raymond Lee Jennings. But the guard told lead detective Richard Longshore...

(Police vehicle; police walking; police at vehicles; Jennings walking; photo of Jennings; Jennings by police vehicle)

Det. LONGSHORE: (Voiceover) He didn’t see anybody at all.

(Jennings at police vehicle)

Det. LONGSHORE: He said, he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t see anybody.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But Jennings did have a possible lead: someone, two someones, he’d encountered earlier that evening while patrolling the lot.

(Dark parking lot; photo of Jennings)

Det. LONGSHORE: Mr. Jennings says, ‘Well, a red truck with two guys in it came up to me an asked me if I was the guard on duty, and if I wasn’t, where did he live—or where did he live. And I couldn’t see their hands. And I was afraid.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) So detectives ordered a search for a red pickup truck, unfortunately a fairly common vehicle in the Antelope Valley. And then a few days later security guard Jennings, afraid for his own safety, perhaps, or simply too upset to return night after night to the very parking lot where he’d failed so spectacularly to provide security, suddenly quit.

(Red pickup trucks; photo of Jennings; windy parking lot; newspaper blowing)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Now the O’Keefe family began the long and agonizing process of living without Michelle.

(Funeral service)

Mr. J. O’KEEFE: (Funeral service) I will love you forever, and I’ll see you in heaven when it’s my time to go. Love, your brother Jason.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (Funeral service) The reason that she left us so early is like, on the rest of her accomplishments, she simply got her done—her work done early.

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: (Funeral service) She had the heart of gold. She not only was my daughter, but she was my best friend.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And it wasn’t so much that their faith faltered, not so much angry at God as deeply hurt. That question that had no answer.

(Funeral service)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: It is very hard. And, you know, it’s one of those questions you have to ask, you know, you say, ‘Gee, when I stand in front of God and Jesus, you know—you know, “Why us?”’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) So really the only question that could perhaps be answered was the earthly one: Who killed Michelle? But at this point detectives still had no suspects, no murder weapon and no clear motive. Their best piece of evidence was Michelle’s Mustang, which was now being combed for clues, especially the fatal bullet slug.

(Photo of Michelle; Longshore and woman investigating Mustang)

Unidentified Woman #3: (Searching vehicle) I don’t know. It could have been just sitting here.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) One thing that got detectives’ attention was the driver’s side window. It was partially rolled down, which seemed odd given how cold it was the night of the murder.

(Longshore and woman investigating Mustang; Mustang with window rolled down)

Det. LONGSHORE: That’s suggestive that she rolled the window down to speak to someone. We’re convinced that no one was hiding inside the vehicle, with no sign of the vehicle being entered forcibly or broken into.

(Voiceover) My partner pointed out is that is this is something a woman would do...

(Longshore and woman by Mustang)

Det. LONGSHORE: ...if she thought she had to talk to someone in authority.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) A person of authority, perhaps wearing a uniform? So far the only person remotely close to that description was Raymond Jennings.  So nearly a week after the murder detectives obtained his uniform from the security company, which told the cops it had not been cleaned. The jacket and pants were thoroughly checked for blood and trace evidence. There was nothing; not even the slightest sample of blood or hair or fibers matching Michelle was on that uniform.

(Mustang; Jennings and police vehicle; photo of Jennings; photos of uniform; exam room; lab equipment)

MORRISON: So all of these things were what you managed to uncover in the first few days.

Det. LONGSHORE: Yes, sir.

MORRISON: But still had no suspect?

Det. LONGSHORE: That’s correct. We talked to the parents and looked at all of the usual suspects, if you will.


Det. LONGSHORE: You know, is this a domestic dispute or a lover’s quarrel?

Well, she had no boyfriends.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Was some sadistic serial killer at work in the Antelope Valley? It was a horrifying question. And as the investigation began to sputter and stall, there was no clear answer. Michelle’s family, desperate to find her killer, offered a reward and went public.

(Railroad tracks; parking lot; foliage; highway; reward flier)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: (Public announcement) My name is Patricia O’Keefe. On the night of February 22nd our daughter Michelle was murdered at the Park and Ride in Palmdale on Avenue S in the 14 freeway. We need your help in raising money for a reward for information leading to the arrest of my daughter’s killer.  Whoever did this has either talked about it or is ready to do it again.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Weeks passed. No solid leads. Media interest cooled.

The O’Keefe family tried to move on without Michelle.

(Stairs; O’Keefe family sitting at table; O’Keefe family looking at clippings)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: I tried to go back to work and I couldn’t. She was my receptionist at the beauty salon. I was a manager. And I’d always see an empty chair there, and I was so use to seeing cheerful Michelle. So I tried to go back to work, and I was a hair stylist, as well, and I’d be cutting hair and then tears would be rolling down my eyes. It’s like, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t do this.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Then, as spring arrived, an unexpected break completely out of the blue. It was a young woman named Victoria Richardson, and what she had to confess would change the course of the investigation. She was at the Park and Ride, she told police, the night of Michelle’s murder. She hadn’t come forward earlier. And now? Well, maybe it was all the media coverage.  Maybe her conscience just got the better of her. Point is, she saw something that night—heard something, too.

(Cactus; photo of Victoria Richardson; parking lot at night; newspaper clippings; police at crime scene)

Det. LONGSHORE: She was with a group of acquaintances in her car, not very far from where the shooting occurred. She heard a tapping sound, which we’ve determined was probably the gunshots, and she saw the security guard walk by just moments before the shooting, as he made his patrol.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) The only guard on duty that night was Raymond Lee Jennings.

(Vehicle in parking lot; photo of Jennings)

Det. LONGSHORE: And when he left the parking lot, went right through the crime scene and ended up stopping and talking to Mr. Jennings and say, ‘What happened?’ And, ‘A shooting?’ He’s like, ‘I don’t know,’ and words to that effect. And—but he never told us that initially.

MORRISON: This is within a few minutes of the shooting?


MORRISON: And yet late—he told you he didn’t see anybody?

Det. LONGSHORE: That’s correct.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Strange, especially given Jennings’ willingness to help and his remarkable memory, that he would somehow forget this crucial encounter. So detectives headed to his house to get the story straight.

(Jennings by police vehicle; outside house)

Det. LONGSHORE: And against asked him to tell us everything that occurred.  That’s when he confirmed that there had been another vehicle that had spoken to him, you know, Victoria Richardson.

(Voiceover) ‘Oh, yeah. That’s right. I remember seeing that now. And it was an African-American lady and she...’

(Parking lot at night; photo of Richardson)

Det. LONGSHORE: ‘She was driving this car.’ And he described the vehicle and occupancy, that type of thing.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) In fact, Jennings said he didn’t even see Michelle and her friend drive onto the lot, nor did he see the shooter when the shots were fired, or afterward when the killer fled. But, after all, it was a large lot, several acres, dozens of cars, two exits, plenty of shadows. Maybe it was possible that Jennings just didn’t see the shooter, but he did remember seeing Michelle’s beautiful blue Mustang, and that car might soon provide a crucial clue. Maybe, along with whatever Jennings could remember, this car would solve the riddle and reveal who murdered Michelle.

(Parking lot at night; vehicle lights; photo of Mustang; crime scene photo; photo of Michelle and Mustang)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Coming up, the security guard offers a disturbing and bizarre theory about why Michelle might have been attacked.

(Parking lot at night; crime scene photos; photo of Michelle)

Mr. RAYMOND LEE JENNINGS: (Police interview) She looked to be a prostitute in my eye because of the way she was dressed.

Unidentified Man: (Police interview) Mm-hmm.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) She had a short skirt on.

Man: (Police interview) Mm-hmm.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) Tube top.

Man: (Police interview) Mm-hmm.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) And her breasts were hanging out.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Is that why Michelle was murdered? When DATELINE continues.

(Crime scene; Dateline graphic)


Ms. P. O’KEEFE: (Press conference) I just want to know why they picked Michelle. Just want to know the motive.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) In the weeks after Michelle O’Keefe was murdered in this parking lot in Southern California’s Antelope Valley, billboards sprang up along the highways that sliced through the high desert. The O’Keefe family was hoping their daughter’s image would spark a lead.

(Pat and Mike; cross with Michelle’s picture on it; parking lot; photos of billboard)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: I think maybe just if anybody knew anything, to get any information from anybody.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Detective Longshore, meanwhile, was working the one slim lead he had, a security guard named Raymond Lee Jennings, who was in the parking lot when Michelle was murdered. Something about Jennings’ story wasn’t quite adding up.

(Longshore walking in office building; Longshore looking at files; photo of Jennings; parking lot at night)

Det. LONGSHORE: We were still looking at him as, ‘Explain to us why you didn’t see anything.’ Not once did he vary much from his basic story about the patrol through the parking lot.

(Voiceover) ‘Why didn’t you see this? You know, why didn’t you see anybody?’

(Parking lot)

Det. LONGSHORE: It’s just incomprehensible.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And there was something about Jennings’ story that didn’t quite make sense, either: when and where he first saw Michelle’s Mustang. Just as that witness Victoria Richardson had placed him near the crime scene just moments before the murder, so did his own personal time frame of where he first spotted Michelle’s bright blue car. FBI profiler Mark Safarik:

(Parking lot at night; photo of Richardson; parking lot at night; Safarik at desk)

Mr. SAFARIK: Now, he said he likes Mustangs, has an affinity for Mustangs, so he noticed her car. But when he reports seeing her car at 9:00, he reports it really in the location where it was actually found after the homicide.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But according to Michelle’s friend Jennifer, at 9:00 the Mustang wasn’t there yet. Michelle, remember, parked under a light almost a hundred feet away. So why would Jennings tell police he saw the Mustang in a different place altogether, in fact, in its final resting place a half an hour before it got there? And if this was really where Jennings saw Michelle’s Mustang, could it mean he was also there around the time the shots were fired?

(Animation of parking lot and vehicles; Mustang in parking lot; crime scene photos)

Mr. SAFARIK: So his story starts to fall apart because, as a witness, his story should be consistent with the whole crime scene.


Mr. SAFARIK: It’s not.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Maybe Jennings had forgotten something, gotten mixed up. Perhaps his memory needed jogging. Detectives had a plan: bring him in for a cognitive interview. And Jennings, again eager to help and happy to talk, agreed to come to the sheriff’s station. They asked Jennings to visualize what he remembered about the moments when he heard those gunshots.

(Parking lot at night; Jennings walking; police vehicle; sheriff’s station;

Jennings being interviewed)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) And a—it had still puzzles me to the day why is it I couldn’t see anybody.

Man: (Police interview) Mm-hmm.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) Its like if the man was invisible or the woman or whoever it was that did the shopping. And it puzzles me to this day that I didn’t see that—the person actually firing the gun because of the close range that they were at.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But Jennings did recall in vivid detail what he witnessed after the shooting when he saw Michelle’s body in her Mustang.

(Photo of Mustang)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) When I first seen her, the gunshot in her chest...

Man: (Police interview) Mm-hmm.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) ...that to me looked like the very first shot that was fired. It was just close range. It was very close range.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Detectives were astonished at how Jennings, standing in low light, could make such an accurate analysis.

(Crime scene photos)

Det. LONGSHORE: He knew, for example, about the sequence of the shots, that the first shot was point blank into her chest. That’s exactly what it was.  We know...

MORRISON: As determined by the autopsy.

Det. LONGSHORE: Right, and we don’t make those determinations before you go to an autopsy, and for a layperson to come up with that, it just defied logic.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Even former FBI profiler Mark Safarik, who had studied crime scenes for years, was impressed.

(Safarik examining photos)

Mr. SAFARIK: To opine when that shot was inflicted from basically a layperson, it’s too much information. You know, the question is, ‘Well, how do you know that?’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Jennings told them he was merely speculating about the crime, trying to help solve it, the crime he felt bad about because it happened on his watch. He was, after all, supposed to provide security. But Jennings was certain about something else he said he saw when he looked at Michelle’s body.

(Crime scene photos)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) And that it’s like nerves still acting funny.

Unidentified Woman #4: (Police interview) Uh-huh.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) Just twitching. Like her hand was twitching, just shaking like that.

Woman #4: (Police interview) Mm-hmm.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) Or just popping up and down.

Woman #4: (Police interview) OK.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) And then, like, I seen a—you could see a light pulse in her neck.

Woman #4: (Police interview) Mm-hmm.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) Just a real—it’s real light.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But hold on. That’s a description of someone who’s still alive, and, remember, Jennings did not rush to the crime scene after the shooting. He stayed at his post 100 yards away until long after she was dead.  So how could he have seen twitching?

(Crime scene photos; photo of Michelle; dark parking lot; photo of Michelle and security sign)

Mr. SAFARIK: That’s just not possible. She had been dead for probably minutes.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) For two hours Jennings provided a variety of opinions and observations, everything from the angle of the shot to the kind of gun used.

(Jennings being interviewed)

Det. LONGSHORE: Then he talked at one point about, ‘Well, I speculate that she was trying to get away. That’s why he had to shoot her.’ And he just knew just way too much.

Mr. SAFARIK: When you see this kind of proffer of information, you know, we’ve seen it many times in cases where you have offenders who leak information. They need to say something because they need to show you that they know that they’re smart, right?

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Weird. They asked Jennings if he’d take a polygraph test. He agreed. And as they were testing him, he offered one more intriguing insight, a theory on why Michelle O’Keefe was attacked.

(Polygraph machine; photo of Jennings; Jennings being interviewed)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) And she looked to be a prostitute in my eye because of the way she was dressed.

Man: (Police interview) Mm-hmm.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) She had a short skirt on.

Man: (Police interview) Mm-hmm.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) Tube top.

Man: (Police interview) Mm-hmm.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) And her breasts were hanging out. So I thought it might have been a prostitution deal what went bad.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And then the test result came in. Jennings failed the polygraph. Now Detective Longshore wanted one more crack at him, alone.

(Polygraph machine; photo of Jennings; Longshore looking at fliers)

Det. LONGSHORE: (Police interview) I think that you saw the pulse, and I think that you saw the hand twitching. And the reason you knew—you saw all that is because you were there.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) This part is all wrong. I swear to you, man, that I was not down there at that time.

Det. LONGSHORE: (Police interview) Why should I believe you, Ray?

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) I...

Det. LONGSHORE: (Police interview) What doesn’t fit with my scenario?

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) I mean, nothing. I mean, everything fits.

Det. LONGSHORE: (Police interview) Everything fits. You told me...

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) But it’s just not right. I mean...

Det. LONGSHORE: I’m telling him, ‘This is what happened. You know, I need to know when it happened. You’re the murderer. Now I need to know why.’

(Police interview) I want you to do two things, Ray, I want you to either show me where I’m wrong, or I want you to be a man and then tell me what happened.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) And yeah—and yeah and if I...

Det. LONGSHORE: (Police interview) Listen, I don’t think that you’re a killer. And I deal with killers all the time.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) You got it wrong, though, because I didn’t talk to her.

Det. LONGSHORE: (Police interview) Something went—happened that night.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) It...

Det. LONGSHORE: (Police interview) Something went wrong, Ray.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) There’s nothing I can say to defend me.

There’s nothing I can say to defend me.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Jennings insisted over and over again that he did not do it; the killer was not him.

(Jennings being interviewed)

Det. LONGSHORE: We kept him for about nine hours, and it got to the point where, although we had given him breaks...

(Voiceover) ...I didn’t want to jeopardize the information I had gotten, because he was there voluntarily.

(Jennings being interviewed)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) After that long day of questioning, Raymond Lee Jennings, the man who seemed to know too much, was now officially a suspect in the murder of Michelle O’Keefe, but Jennings wasn’t arrested.

(Sheriff station; police at crime scene)

MORRISON: He looked at the guy, the security guard. Did they not feel that he was responsible?

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: I finally asked them. They go, ‘Well, we need physical evidence.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And without something like DNA, fingerprints, or the murder weapon, the chances of Jennings being charged anytime soon were unlikely, if not impossible. And it certainly didn’t help that Raymond Jennings hardly seemed like a cold-blooded killer. He had no criminal history. He was a father of five, a war vet, served his country honorably.  Maybe he shouldn’t be charged. But what if Raymond Lee Jennings was willing to talk again?

(Crime scene photos; police vehicles; Jennings being interviewed; photos of Jennings; Jennings giving deposition)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Coming up, an expert with a new strategy, and the desperate family seeks the opinion of a psychic on “The Montel Williams Show.”

(Headstone; O’Keefe family at cemetery; photo of Michelle; clip of “The Montel Williams Show”)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (“The Montel Williams Show”) Do you know who killed her?

Ms. SYLVIA BROWNE: (“The Montel Williams Show”) His name is Lee or Leon.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) When The Girl with the Blue Mustang continues.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Summer is hot in the Antelope Valley—relentless, blistering, desert hot. In the summer of 2000, only the Michelle O’Keefe murder case was cold. It had been six months, and the prime suspect, the only suspect, Raymond Lee Jennings, went on with his life, reporting for work every day at a local car dealership. He also happened to live very close to the O’Keefe family.

(Desert and sun; railroad tracks; desert; file boxes; photo of Jennings; parking lot; outside house)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: I use to see him at the grocery store.

(Voiceover) And then he would walk in every now and then, and it was kind of weird.

(Outside Vons)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: And sometimes he’d come in and buy milk or diapers or whatever, because he had four or five kids.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Detectives kept an eye on Jennings and continued to chase other leads, using the media to help fuel the investigation.

(Parking lot lights; photo of Jennings; sheriff’s logo; Longshore speaking to reporter)



Sheriff’s Homicide

Det. LONGSHORE: (To reporter) And we are going to close this case. It’s not going to be an easy task and murder cases never are. It’s just a matter of time before we get the phone call we’re looking for.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But the O’Keefe family felt it as all taking far too much time. They knew investigators believed Raymond Jennings killed their daughter, yet there he was on the loose, literally down the street.

(People looking at photos; Pat holding photo; outside house)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: Seems like the case load was so huge that they were on it for a while and then, after a while, you know...

MORRISON: Time passes.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: Level of priority just didn’t seem to be there. Finally after a few months passed, a guy who was doing counseling with us suggested that we go see Rex.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Rex was R. Rex Parris, a common in Antelope Valley civil attorney known for handling personal injury cases and winning large settlements.

(R. Rex Parris sign; Parris in office)

Mr. R. REX PARRIS: I didn’t think I could help them because they were coming for a civil case, and it just didn’t seem to be there.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) A civil case? Novel idea. Maybe that could jump-start the police investigation.

(Parris in office)

Mr. PARRIS: You know, use a civil case to make a criminal prosecution develop.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: So we went to Rex and talked to him about it. And he goes, ‘Well, you know, if we want to go the civil route,’ he says, ‘I’m confident we can get out a lot more information. If nothing else, at least it’ll help bring you some answers.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Those answers might quite possibly lead away from Jennings, of course. Although...

(Parris in office)

Mr. PARRIS: (Voiceover) When I learned that he flunked the lie detector test, then I became much more interested, and we started on the quest.

(Jennings being interviewed)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Parris hired a private detective and started his own investigation.

(R. Rex Parris sign)

Mr. PARRIS: It became personal. I wanted to know. It’s an 18-year-old girl who’s murdered in the town I was born in.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Meanwhile, the O’Keefes continued their own personal crusade to find the killer. On what would have been Michelle’s 19th birthday...

(Parking lot; photo of Michelle)

Mr. MONTEL WILLIAMS: (“The Montel Williams Show”) Please welcome Mike and Pat to the show. You can ask Sylvia questions...

MORRISON: (Voiceover) ...they appeared on “The Montel Williams Show” and told their story to renowned psychic Sylvia Browne.

(Clip of “The Montel Williams Show”)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (“The Montel Williams Show”) About eight months ago, our daughter was murdered in a Park and Ride. And...

Ms. BROWNE: (“The Montel Williams Show”) In a what?

Mr. WILLIAMS: (“The Montel Williams Show”) Park and Ride.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (“The Montel Williams Show”) In a Park and Ride. What we’d like to know is, the police haven’t got a name yet or anything. Do you know who killed her? They haven’t found a weapon yet, either.

Ms. BROWNE: (“The Montel Williams Show”) He’s very fair. And he’s very large build. But his name is Lee or Leon.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Lee as in Raymond Lee Jennings?

(Photo of Jennings)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (“The Montel Williams Show”) Did he have on a uniform?

Ms. BROWNE: (“The Montel Williams Show”) Yeah, he did. He had on some kind of a blue uniform with a pocket and a—and a badge thing. But, I mean, it’s...

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: Granted, you got to take anything they say with, you know, a grain of salt, but it did seem to correlate a lot to what we had found out.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Rex Parris was also taking a long, hard look at Raymond Lee Jennings. He sent his private investigator to North Carolina to pry into Jennings’ background. He listened to the tape of Jennings’ cognitive interview, especially his account of the shooting.

(R. Rex Parris office; Parris in office; North Carolina sign; Jennings being interviewed)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) I didn’t see anything. I know that sounds funny and ridiculous, but—it bothers me every day that I did not see anything.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Then, an idea. Why not re-create the crime scene to verify Jennings’ story? Detectives decided to conduct an experiment. Could they see what Jennings’ saw if he was crouching for cover, as he claimed, while the shots were fired?

(Parking lot at night)

Det. LONGSHORE: (Voiceover) We took a vehicle, just like Michelle’s, and we had it roll backwards. And we had a shooter of average size walking next to it, firing rounds, where we believed the location of the shots were fired from. And we filmed this from Mr. Jennings’ vantage point based on his statements.

(Mustang and shooter; security vehicle only sign; Mustang rolling and person shooting)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) If the tape was any indication, it certainly appeared that Jennings should have seen something or someone. As the one-year anniversary of Michelle’s death approached, attorney Parris and the O’Keefe family filed a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit against the city of Palmdale, the security guard company and Raymond Lee Jennings for the wrongful death of Michelle.

(Mustang rolling and person shooting; O’Keefe family at cemetery; newspaper;

Park and Ride sign)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: We had mixed emotions. You know, how are people going to perceive us, you know, you know, doing the civil action or something...

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: Yeah, some people thought we just wanted to get money for Michelle’s murder.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: Yeah. They do. However, you know, the more important thing was to get this thing solved.

MORRISON: That was your motivation?

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: Right. Absolutely.


MORRISON: (Voiceover) But before this case would ever get to court, Rex Parris had one more piece of business. After months of digging, he wanted to get Raymond Lee Jennings’ side of the story from the man himself.

(Parris walking in hallway; Park and Ride sign; crime scene; police vehicle)

Mr. PARRIS: (Voiceover) He knew too much, and he knew he knew too much.

(Parking lot at night)

Mr. PARRIS: It was an amazing experience.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Coming up, the security guard claims he’s being framed just for helping out the cops.

(Jennings walking; photo of Jennings; Jennings by police vehicle)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) I didn’t kill Michelle O’Keefe.

Mr. PARRIS: (Deposition video) What...

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) What I did is gave too much information to the police.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) When DATELINE continues.

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) I think about Michelle every day. We try to remember the good times we had with Michelle and the beautiful smile that she had. She’s still part of our lives.

(Photos of Michelle)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: Yes.

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: She’s still in our heart.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) By the summer of 2002, Michelle O’Keefe would have been 20 years old, halfway through college, so they tried to remember her life, all of it so good until that one day; and then a recollection of that night, which stabbed his heart or hers, and blackness would settle as sure as they’d spotted Raymond Jennings himself at the neighborhood grocery. It had to be him. Why couldn’t anyone make a case? Summer came again, two years, two and a half, and then one blistering August morning Raymond Jennings, responding to a deposition notice, walked into Rex Parris’ office.

(Sun behind tree; photo of Michelle; painting of Michelle; Jason, Pat and Mike looking at photos; street lamps; crime scene photo; parking lot at night; shadows on ground; train passing; scrub land; car passing; Parris’ office)

Mr. PARRIS: He then shows up with this paralegal who’s acting like he’s an attorney, but he’s really not an attorney. And, you know, a real attorney wouldn’t have let him enter it in the first place.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But here he was, friendly, chatty as ever, in the face of the audience Parris had assembled.

(Jennings giving deposition)

Mr. PARRIS: The local newspaper was there and, you know, I had security people there, and the parents were there. And he was literally enjoying the attention.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) There’s no evidence whatsoever. If that was the case, it’s almost—it’s going on three years. Why am I sitting here talking to you? How come I’m not in jail? I pray every day, I said, ‘If they going to come and arrest me and charge me for this crime, come and do it.’

Mr. PARRIS: Here’s this guy who’s incredibly charming and articulate.

(Voiceover) He’s an amazingly glib person, you know, given his level of education.

(Jennings giving deposition)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) I understand why I didn’t see the person that did not shy—that did shoot Michelle because of the fact the van was in my way. And he did not step out from that van.

Mr. PARRIS: (Deposition video) Where’d he go?

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) You got to find him and ask him. I don’t know.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Parris went to work on what Jennings saw and when he saw it. Cell phone records confirmed Michelle and her friend Jennifer had entered the parking lot around 9:23 PM, exactly the time Jennings told detectives he was on patrol.

(Parking lot at night; car at night; clock showing 9:23)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) It’s obvious that someone dropped her off.

I don’t know what time they dropped her off and...

Mr. PARRIS: (Deposition video) But it’s your testimony you never saw that.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) Yeah, I ever seen it. To this day, I can’t remember seeing any kind of car roll—ride by me, or if they did I didn’t pay any attention to it.

Mr. PARRIS: (Voiceover) If anyone else was in that lot, he should have known.

(Parking lot at night)

Mr. PARRIS: He should have seen them drive in from where he was standing, and he’d denied that. He would just deny, deny, deny any connection.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) But I didn’t kill Michelle O’Keefe.

Mr. PARRIS: (Deposition video) What...

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) What I did is gave too much information to the police on being Sherlock Holmes, and I should have never did that.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Jennings’ paralegal companion did not interrupt.

Perhaps he should have.

(Jennings giving deposition)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) You’re doing a very good job of irritating me and getting underneath my skin. I’m trying to stay nice and calm. Because I know what you want me to do is blow up in front of this camera so you can take it and use it against me. It’s not going to happen, my friend.

Mr. PARRIS: (Deposition video) OK, so why don’t you just try to tell the truth.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) I am telling the truth.

Mr. PARRIS: (Deposition video) So let’s start again.

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) Let’s not start again.

Mr. PARRIS: (Deposition video) No, we...

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Parris went on for hours exploring and unraveling Jennings’ story.

(Jennings giving deposition)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) I’m not your scapegoat. The real killer is out there someplace, and I’m not the one.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Jennings answered every question...

(Jennings giving deposition)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) Is that the answer you want to keep hearing? Because that’s what I’m going to keep telling you.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) ...seemed brash...

(Jennings giving deposition)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) Because you’re being a smart ass, I’m going to be a smart ass back to you.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) ...even cocky...

(Jennings giving deposition)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) No. You ask a crazy question, I give you a crazy answer.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) he vividly described watching Michelle cling to life when he arrived at the crime scene.

(Body bag; crime scene photos)

Mr. PARRIS: In order for him to have seen that, he had to have been there when the shot was fired. There just isn’t any way around that.

MORRISON: In other words, he knew too much.

Mr. PARRIS: Way too much. Way too much.

(Voiceover) Oftentimes people who are not career criminals, there is such a thing as guilt, and it’s fighting the desire to come clean.

(Jennings giving deposition)

Mr. PARRIS: And I think that was going on with him also.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But there was one other moment during that long deposition which revealed yet another and perhaps unexpected side of Raymond Lee Jennings, when he spoke directly to the O’Keefe family.

(Jennings giving deposition)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) My condolences go to you. Truly sorry what happened to your daughter. I wish it wouldn’t have. I say I don’t wish that upon anybody.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) The O’Keefes listened to it all, every word, every nuance. They tried to read every facial expression.

(Mike, Pat and Jason; Jennings giving deposition)

MORRISON: You sat in the room while he was being interviewed.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: Mm-hmm.

MORRISON: What was that like for the two of you?

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: It was very difficult. One time he got frustrated, made a comment to me. And he goes, ‘You’re barking up the wrong tree with me,’ or something like that. And I said, ‘Well, gee, how do you know all this? How’d you know all this information if you weren’t there?’

MORRISON: What did you feel like doing?

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: You want to front—jump across the table and get justice.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Rex Parris had invited a local newspaper reporter to the deposition, too, and the next morning the reporter’s conclusions were pretty clear.

(Parris’ office; newspaper article)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) There was a caption underneath Jennings and it was “lies,” and so things started to heat up, you know.

(Newspaper article)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: And people started to focus. They’re going, ‘Gee, you know, maybe it is this—maybe it is this guard.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Among them was lead homicide detective Richard Longshore, who’d been bogged down with other investigations, unable to focus exclusively on the case.

(Longshore at desk)

Det. LONGSHORE: (Voiceover) The deposition helped us quite a bit.

(Longshore at desk)

Det. LONGSHORE: The opportunity to see, again, Mr. Jennings in a different light.

(Voiceover) When there is no jeopardy, he’s not facing a potential arrest or anything else, but it gave us again a timeline.

(Jennings giving deposition)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But Longshore still couldn’t make an arrest, and it wasn’t just the lack of physical evidence that prevented it. Something else had intervened, something that no one else ever imagined: a confession, and not just one. Was it possible someone else killed Michelle O’Keefe?

(Longshore; box; Longshore at desk; parking lot at night; photo of Michelle)

Det. LONGSHORE: People confessing to it.

(Voiceover) She was killed because she owed money to a dope dealer.

(Pickup at night)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Had police been chasing the wrong man all along?

(Sheriff’s vehicle; Jim Jeffra in parking lot)

Mr. JIM JEFFRA: I was going to prove that he didn’t kill this girl.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) When The Girl with the Blue Mustang continues.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Month after month it dogged him, taunted him. 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.

(Longshore at desk, looking through photos; photo of Michelle; photo of Jennings; crime scene photo; Longshore at desk; parking lot at night; silhouettes)

Det. LONGSHORE: We had people confessing to it. Youngsters, teenagers early twenties up in the Antelope Valley who were involved in the—in drug trafficking, were, ‘Well, OK, she was killed because she owed money to a dope dealer.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Did he believe them? No, he didn’t. But he still had to check them out, every one of them.

(Longshore driving)

MORRISON: Why did they do that?

Det. LONGSHORE: God knows. So we had to look at that and maybe—and discount that, and there were a lot of those kinds of things...


Det. LONGSHORE: make sure that—because it—if we don’t do that, the defense is going to bring it up as a shoddy investigation.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) 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, 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 Foltz.

(Parking lot at night; pickup at night; sheriff’s vehicle; silhouettes disappearing; photo of Jennings; Longshore; Robert Foltz)

District Attorney ROBERT FOLTZ: When I reviewed all that paper, I was convinced this guy did it.


Mr. FOLTZ: 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.

MORRISON: Just wasn’t any.

Mr. FOLTZ: Right. And so I thought, ‘Well, let’s wait on this one. We’ve got other ones more urgent at this point.’ So it got pushed aside.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) The O’Keefe family was devastated. They’d been so sure that civil deposition would produce criminal charges. They were running out of options.

(Jason, Mike and Pat at dinner table)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: You know, as long as there’s breath in my lungs we aren’t going to give up until this thing’s resolved.

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: Yeah. There isn’t...

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) It was almost like there was a voice saying that this hasn’t been done. It needs to be completed.

(Michelle’s grave; photos of Michelle)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) 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...

(Michelle’s grave; photo of Michelle; Mike, Pat and Jason walking dog)

MORRISON: Said, ‘Oh, we—this is nuts. We’ve got to let it go.’

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: No.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: No.

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: 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.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: No.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Was that why they kept paying for those billboards in the desert, or why, as the fourth anniversary of Michelle’s murderer approached, the O’Keefes responded to a caller?

(Billboard; scrubland; sun and tree; memorial site)

Mr. JEFFRA: I think a lot of folks thought the case was over, and I had just gotten my private investigator’s license. I decided I was going to branch out a little bit, and I always liked to investigate anyway.

(Voiceover) And maybe a fresh pair of eyes wouldn’t hurt.

(Jim Jeffra entering car)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) His name was Jim Jeffra, a retired sheriff’s detective who lived nearby. Would the O’Keefes mind, he asked, if he conducted his own investigation, and from a very different point of view?

(Jeffra driving; parking lot)

Mr. JEFFRA: (Voiceover) Maybe Raymond Lee Jennings did not kill her.

(Parking lot)

Mr. JEFFRA: 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...

(Voiceover) ...we could move forward and go after the person that did kill her.

(Parking lot at night)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) There’s an old saying that homicide detectives serve the dead, and maybe it’s true. Jeffra went to the crime scene.

(Jeffra in parking lot)

Mr. JEFFRA: (Voiceover) Saw the memorial and I walked up and looked at it, but I tapped the picture and I just asked her. I said, ‘You know, Michelle, I need a little help. Help me.’

(Jeffra at memorial)

Mr. JEFFRA: ‘Guide me in the direction I need to go.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And then for months Jeffra crisscrossed the Antelope Valley talking to people, some of whom knew Jennings and could support his story, and poring over the aging crime reports, especially the things Jennings himself said about what happened. And...

(Jeffra driving; Jeffra reading)

Mr. JEFFRA: It just didn’t make sense. It didn’t add up the way he wanted it to add up.

(Voiceover) Two and two just wasn’t making four this time.

(Jeffra reading)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Jim Jeffra huddled with Mike O’Keefe and watched those videotaped interviews. They scrutinized his body language. They dissected every suspicious statement.

(Jeffra and Mike watching video; Jennings giving deposition; Jennings in police interview)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) I’m an innocent guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) They flagged all his inconsistencies.

(Jennings in police interview)

Mr. JEFFRA: (Voiceover) I kept telling myself, ‘It’s in the video. You’re an investigator. Find it.’

(Jennings giving deposition)

Mr. JEFFRA: It’s in there. He is telling a story that just doesn’t add up in these videos.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: There is no way anybody’s going to have that level of information, certainly a $6-an-hour security guard is not going to have that level of information unless you were there.

Mr. JEFFRA: (Voiceover) There were no doubt in my mind, just no doubt.

(Jennings giving deposition)

Mr. JEFFRA: I think he killed Michelle.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) 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?

(Jeffra in parking lot at night; Jeffra at memorial; videotapes; Mike at computer)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: We put together a PowerPoint presentation and put all these video excerpts in there on all these times where Jennings basically told the whole story, you know, on how it all happened.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) The two men, along with another private investigator, and guidance from civil attorney Rex Parris, strung together bits of sound...

(Mike and Jeffra watching video)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) I didn’t see anybody come in during that time. I didn’t see anybody drop anybody off.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) ...bits of answers that seemed to show Jennings knew so much about the crime.

(Jeffra and Mike watching video)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Deposition video) What I seen out there that night, her pulse and her fingers twitching.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) He had to be guilty.

(Jennings giving deposition; Jennings police interview)

Mr. JENNINGS: (Police interview) I don’t know what to tell you because, I mean, everything points to me.

Mr. PARRIS: You have now hours and hours of interviews that, if you don’t edit it and see the inconsistencies and point to, ‘OK, this 30 seconds of film demonstrates that 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.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) 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’d 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 DA would go chasing him there.

(Mike working on computer; tanks and soldiers in Iraq)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And thus, after five frustrating years, the O’Keefes’ quest to solve their daughter’s murder was surely over, now apparently hopeless. Unless! Mike O’Keefe had one last and rather unconventional idea, foolish, probably. An amateur’s unwelcome interference, possibly? Well, we shall see.

(Mike, Pat and Jason at grave site; grave stone; Mike creating diagram)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Coming up, Michelle’s father finally persuades prosecutors to go after Raymond Jennings.

(Mike, Pat and Jason; Michael Blake looking through papers; Jennings in court)

Det. LONGSHORE: We took him down at a traffic stop.

(Voiceover) His statement was, ‘I’ve been in Iraq. Is this about Michelle O’Keefe?’

(Photo of Jennings being arrested; photo of Jennings)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) When DATELINE continues.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (Memorial) We are here tonight to pay tribute to a person that is forever etched in our hearts. She’s been gone now for five years in a physical sense, but spiritually she’s lived on.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) The fifth anniversary of Michelle O’Keefe’s murder was a disheartening time. The only suspect, Raymond Jennings, was serving the country in Iraq, and it seemed clear to most people the DA had no intention of prosecuting anytime soon. That’s when Mike O’Keefe asked for a very unusual meeting with District Attorney Robert Foltz. He brought his PowerPoint presentation; show and tell, you could say.

(Photo of Michelle; candlelight vigil; Jennings giving deposition; tank and soldiers in Iraq; Mike working on computer; Foltz in office; Mike working on computer)

Mr. FOLTZ: They had everything very carefully kind of sifted down to what they felt was the important things to consider.

MORRISON: So they goosed it.

Mr. FOLTZ: They goosed it.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And the DA? Liked the presentation a lot. He consulted with Detective Longshore, and two weeks later...

(Foltz at chair; Mike working on computer; Longshore at desk)

Mr. FOLTZ: I decided that, as problematic as the case was, it was not an impossible feat to get this case appropriately prosecuted. So I filed it.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And, coincidentally, Jennings had just completed his hitch in Iraq. It was a few days before Thanksgiving 2005 when he returned to Southern California, no idea what was coming.

(Soldiers in Iraq boarding airplane; Antelope Valley; wind turbine)

Det. LONGSHORE: I had him under surveillance. We took him down at a traffic stop and was ordered out at gunpoint.

(Voiceover) His statement was, ‘I’ve been in Iraq. Is this about Michelle O’Keefe?’

(Photo of Jennings being arrested)

Det. LONGSHORE: And, yes, it was, and so he taken into custody.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: Almost felt like God or Jesus reached out and put his hand on me. You know, I just sort of got a chill down my spine. Pat said I reacted.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) ‘Don’t hold your breath,’ someone might have told him.

(Judge; state seal)

Unidentified Judge: (In court) Mr. Jennings, do you agree to come back to this court in January 9th, understanding that your preliminary hearing will take place within 10 court days of that day instead of 10 court days from today?

Mr. JENNINGS: (In court) Yes, sir.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Oh, Jennings was charged, all right, first-degree murder.

(Court in session)

Judge: (In court) Bail will be set at $1 million.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And bail was set so high Jennings had no choice but to wait in jail and wait and wait, until the spring of 2008.

(Jennings in court; intersection; jail exterior)

MORRISON: Finally, something like eight years after Michelle O’Keefe was murdered right there on that very spot, Raymond Lee Jennings, the security guard who patrolled this parking lot on that very night, was going to face a charge of first-degree murder. But not here, not in the Antelope Valley where both of them lived and where the story was known by a lot of people. No, the case would be heard about 80 miles that way in downtown Los Angeles, where almost nobody knew the story.

(Voiceover) Antelope Valley had a brand-new courthouse, but it couldn’t yet accommodate long-running trials. So now the O’Keefe family would have to commute four hours round trip to the downtown courthouse in LA.

(Courthouse exterior; Mike, Pat and Jason entering SUV; scrubland passing; courthouse exterior)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) There’s such a cross-section of society in there, people with different backgrounds, people with different beliefs.

(Courthouse exterior)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: You just don’t know how it’s going to come out.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But it wouldn’t be for lack of trying. Prosecutor Michael Blake had prepared an exhaustive case. One awful incident, but so complicated.

(Blake reading papers)

Mr. MICHAEL BLAKE: (Voiceover) And this one was a very difficult one to find a clear path, and we have thousands of thousands of pages of evidence in this case.

(Blake reading)

Mr. BLAKE: And one of the real challenges was to understand how it fit together because we have all these little pieces.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) So what happened that night? Here was the prosecution’s theory. Jennings, by his own admission, mistook Michelle for a prostitute because of the way she was dressed while appearing in that Kid Rock video, as former FBI profiler Mark Safarik told the jury.

(Driving at night; car in parking lot; photo of Michelle; Michelle in backseat; Morrison interviewing Mark Safarik)

Mr. SAFARIK: I think the offender intended to sexually engage with her because she’s found with her tube top down. She’s biting back and responding in a way that I think that the offender didn’t anticipate based on the way she was dressed. And he panicked.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Jennings hit her. She tried to drive off. He fired the fatal shots. Or so went the theory. But where was the evidence, asked Jennings’ defense? Where was a weapon or DNA or fingerprints?

(Photo of Jennings; photo of Michelle; parking lot at night seen in side view mirror; crime scene photos; parking lot at night; crime scene photo)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: The DA refers to it as the “CSI” effect. With all the television shows, they want all this forensic evidence and, frankly, it doesn’t exist.


(Voiceover) The trial lasted six weeks. The jury stayed out for over a week and did not reach a verdict, hung on a 9-3 vote in favor of conviction. Not totally surprising, perhaps, given the complexity of the case, but that wasn’t the reason.

(Empty juror seats; newspaper article excerpts; crime scene photo; empty juror seats)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: There’s one fellah who said that he couldn’t go with a guilty verdict because he had a bad dream that it was drive-by shooting.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Hung on a juror’s dream? The prosecutor shook his head, considered for a moment, and spoke to Mike O’Keefe.

(Blake looking through papers)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: He says, ‘Mike, we’re basically one bad dream away from a guilty verdict.’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And so a second trial was ordered, again in downtown Los Angeles. This time a TV camera was there as opening arguments began.

(Court in session)

Mr. BLAKE: (In court) The evidence in this case will absolutely show that Raymond Lee Jennings is telling a series of lies to begin to direct attention away from himself. You’ll see that they’re mixed in with grains of truth.  The problem is, with those grains of truth, they’re also the truths that we know only the killer would know.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Jennings seemed relaxed and confident as his attorney again pointed out the lack of physical evidence.

(Jennings in court)

Unidentified Man #2: (In court) No fingerprint evidence, gunshot residue, none. No blood evidence connects Mr. Jennings to this crime because Mr.  Jennings is factually innocent of this offense.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Six more weeks of trial, same evidence, many of the same witnesses, final arguments finished in February 2009, and less than a week later the second jury sent this note to the judge. Hung again, this time by only one juror who felt Jennings was not guilty. This despite the pressure during deliberation from the other 11 jurors, who voted to convict.

(Court in session; filed note from jury; newspaper article; empty juror seats)

Unidentified Man #3: When you try to pin her down, her responses weren’t reasonable or rational or anything that a sober person would even think.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (Press conference) It’s horrible, you know, 11-to-1, you know. I think the answer was obvious across the jury. You just had one wild card juror in there that wouldn’t make up their mind.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And so the O’Keefes got in the car and started the long trip home to the Antelope Valley and wondered, would they let him go now?  Would Raymond Lee Jennings go free?

(Mike, Pat and Jason leaving courthouse, entering van)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) That was just the question prosecutors and police were asking.

(Blake and Longshore at desk)

Det. LONGSHORE: (Voiceover) He said, ‘Do you have the energy to do this again?’

(Longshore and Blake at desk)

Det. LONGSHORE: And I said, ‘Well, do you?’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Will there be a third trial? When The Girl with the Blue Mustang continues.

Mr. BLAKE: (Voiceover) I really did ask myself some real hard questions about whether I’d made a mistake.

(Blake in office)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Twice the prosecutor Michael Blake had taken the case to a jury; twice he’d failed to persuade them all that Raymond Jennings murdered Michelle O’Keefe. Was he wrong to try it in the first place? Did he really think he’d get yet another chance at a rare third trial?

(Blake in court; empty juror seats; photo of Jennings by photo of Michelle;

Blake in court)

Det. LONGSHORE: Michael Blake and I were sitting in his office afterwards and he said...

(Voiceover) ...‘Do you have the energy to do this again?’

(Longshore and Blake sitting across from one another)

Det. LONGSHORE: And I said, ‘Well, do you?’

MORRISON: (Voiceover) There was little forensic evidence, nothing at least that would help them. The whole thing had become ridiculously complicated, had filled up thousands of pages. So now what? Forget it? Well, in fact, it wasn’t their decision. A judge would have to decide whether or not there’d be a third trial. The detective and the prosecutor assembled to hear the decision.

(Longshore and Blake sitting across from one another; folders; Criminal Justice Center exterior; court in session)

Judge: (In court) I will not dismiss the case, so if the people request it there will be a third trial. It will undoubtedly be the final trial, so everyone should plan accordingly.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) The final trial, meaning if this jury were to hang, Raymond Lee Jennings would walk.

(Court in session)

Mr. BLAKE: There was some pressure because you know whatever happens, whatever the outcome is, it’s over.

(Voiceover) It’s the end.

(Jennings in court)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But that wasn’t the judge’s only decision. The other?

Trial number three would be moved out of LA.

(Court in session)

MORRISON: But this time, for the third and possibly last trial, the case would be heard here in the Antelope Valley, the home of Michelle O’Keefe and Raymond Lee Jennings. It had been 10 years since that cold night in February 2000, but people around here still remembered the story.

(Voiceover) And prosecutor Blake went back to basics. How could he cut through the clutter and get to that jury?

(Blake in room with boxes)

Mr. BLAKE: I went back to the drawing board. We’d restructured the case, the presentation of the case. So I started thinking from the point of view of the jurors, what questions would they want answered?

(Voiceover) And that’s where I came up with four questions.

(Empty juror seats)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Trial three. Four questions. Last chance.

(Court in session)

Mr. BLAKE: (In court) Where was the Mustang through all these events? Where was Michelle? Where was the gun? And where was Raymond Jennings? You put the answer to those four questions together, and this man is guilty of Michelle O’Keefe’s murder.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Blake hammered home the timeline, told the jury how Michelle arrived in the parking lot at 9:23, then at 9:25 moved her car to a second space, told them how Jennings, on foot patrol, must have seen her, must have confronted her. Something went wrong. He produced a gun, and shortly after 9:30, Michelle O’Keefe was dead.

(Court in session; parking lot; clock showing time; photo of Michelle; parking lot; headlights coming on; car in parking lot; photos of Michelle; crime scene photos flashing quickly)

Mr. BLAKE: (In court) He took that girl’s life to preserve his own after making a grave mistake with her. That’s what the evidence will show.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And, according to the prosecutor, it was no coincidence that virtually all those details Jennings provided about the crime were accurate.

(Court in session)

Mr. BLAKE: (In court) Well, he’s remembering where he was. He’s remembering the positions of the car. He knows the angles the bullets took as they passed through Michelle O’Keefe. He knows all this stuff because he’s the shooter.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Or maybe not. Jennings, said the defense, had figured out what the cops could not and was merely trying to help.

(Jennings in court; Jennings police interview)

Man #2: (In court) By making this case complex and overlaying things that Mr.  Jennings has said, then we have what situation? Complex case that cops can’t really figure out, but Mr. Jennings has been able to, everything. It’s going to be analyzed in a way that suits a prosecution who wants to convict Mr.  Jennings.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And, insisted the defense, with absolutely no physical evidence connecting him to the crime. But the prosecution countered with former FBI profiler Mark Safarik, who had a theory about why there was no evidence found on Jennings’ uniform that might link him to Michelle’s murder.

(Court in session; photos of Jennings’ uniform)

Mr. SAFARIK: (In court) This is—interaction between them is very quick, and that it’s a minimal contact interaction. There is a sexual assault piece then escalates into homicide. It’s a minimal interaction, so I’m not—I wouldn’t expect that there would be any trace evidence between them.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But there was something on Michelle, and it might be important for the defense. Under one of Michelle’s fingernails, investigators found a tiny speck of blood that was mixed with DNA from someone else.

(Crime scene photo; Jennings in court; crime scene photo)

Man #2: (In court) One donor being Miss O’Keefe, one donor being an unknown male, not Mr. Jennings.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Not Mr. Jennings. So was it the killer? In each trial, as now, the prosecution claimed the DNA was irrelevant. Michelle could have picked it up anywhere, maybe in the crowded studio by just touching someone during that taping with Kid Rock. Still, it was just the sort of thing that could hang a jury for the third time. So same arguments, same long, complicated trial, like “Groundhog Day,” but for this: they were in the Antelope Valley now, right down the road from the Park and Ride. And so, on a cold November night, the judge moved her courtroom to the scene of the crime.  Would this help the jury see what happened? Detective Longshore acted as a sort of tour guide.

(Crime scene photo; Blake in court; clips from music video; empty juror seats; court in session; courthouse exterior; van in parking lot; clapboard sign; people in parking lot)

Det. LONGSHORE: This is where that was.

(Voiceover) And Mr. Jennings had testified about the route he took, you know, that type of thing. It was pretty intense.

(People in parking lot at night)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) So it was. As was one more question pregnant in the air as the trial wound down. Would he take the stand and talk to the jury?

(People in parking lot at night; Jennings in court)

Judge LISA M. CHUNG: (In court) OK, so he’s exercising his right to remain silent?

Man #2: (In court) Yes.

Judge CHUNG: (In court) And that is a voluntary decision on your part, sir?

MORRISON: (Voiceover) He certainly seemed to want to talk.

(Jennings in court)

Judge CHUNG: (In court) Mr. Jennings?

Man #2: (In court) Could we take just a couple-minute break, Your Honor?

Mr. BLAKE: Tactically there’s a big downside to putting your client on, but it’s Mr. Jennings’ choice.

(Voiceover) He’s the only one who is making that decision in the end.

(Jennings in court)

Judge CHUNG: (In court) You wish to exercise your right to remain silent?

Mr. JENNINGS: (In court) Yes, Your Honor.

Judge CHUNG: (In court) Is that a knowing, understanding, voluntary decision on your part?

Mr. JENNINGS: (In court) Yes, Your Honor.

Judge CHUNG: (In court) And nobody’s pressured you or coerced you in any way?

Mr. JENNINGS: (In court) No, Your Honor.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) So now the man who perhaps had already talked too much remained quiet and let his lawyer do the talking.

(Jennings in court; Jennings police interview; court in session)

Man #2: (In court) I know you will do the right thing. Mr. Jennings is innocent of this offense. Mr. Jennings needs to go home.

Mr. BLAKE: (In court) Raymond Jennings, I don’t think he meant for this to happen. I think he panicked, but he left that scene a murderer. Follow the law, follow your conscience, and tell him that you know he’s guilty. Thank you.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) The lawyers had their say, of course—always do—before 12 sometimes befuddled citizens went off to a room to argue. And the O’Keefes, once again, left the building. Two hung juries, two strikes against them, three and they’d be out.

(Jennings in court; empty juror seats; Mike, Pat and Jason leaving building)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: Michelle deserves justice. She went into that parking lot, you know, a beautiful 18-year-old girl and then left murdered.

(Voiceover) She needs to have justice.

(Mike, Pat and Jason in parking lot)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Coming up, the final verdict. This time, would there finally be justice for Michelle? For weeks the jury wrestled with their decision.

(Courthouse exterior; photo of Michelle; empty juror seats; courthouse exterior)

Unidentified Juror #1: It was hard for all of us. At one point a lot of us kind of broke down.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) When DATELINE continues.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) By late November 2009, courtroom A-19 was quiet. The jury was in there. What were they thinking?

(Courthouse exterior; courtroom A-19 sign; juror seats and door)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: You keep asking yourself, gee, do they really get this, or did they get that, you know?

MORRISON: This is really your last shot.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: Yeah, it’s really our last shot, and...

(Voiceover) ...what happens if this person gets out?

(Jennings in court)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Thanksgiving passed. So did the first week of December. Christmas was closing in. But no verdict.

(Court exterior in fast speed)

Det. LONGSHORE: As the days progressed, typically the feeling is that the longer they’re out the worse it is for the prosecution.


Det. LONGSHORE: And so I was—I was really getting concerned.

MORRISON: Well, this has hung twice before.

Det. LONGSHORE: Right. And if it hung a third time, that was it.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) So what was happening behind the closed door? Anthony Mosely was jury foreperson.

(Courthouse exterior; Anthony Mosely and other jurors)

Mr. ANTHONY MOSELY: I told everybody up front is time is on our side. I mean, we had to get this right. We had to get it right. It didn’t matter as far as how long it took because someone’s life was at stake.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Especially since Raymond Lee Jennings, Iraq war vet and father of five, seemed like a very unlikely killer.

(Photo of Jennings; Jennings in court)

Unidentified Juror #2: (Voiceover) I wasn’t sure it was Jennings, but there was some reasonable doubt early on.

(Jennings in court)

Juror #2: Because he seemed like a pretty nice guy.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Or was he? In their private room, as days became a week and then two weeks and then three weeks, they disagreed. They cried.  They quarreled.

(Jennings in court; courtroom exterior; moon; branch; papers stacked on desk; jurors)

Juror #1: We’d sit there, and I’d say, ‘This is why I think he’s guilty. Can you just tell me—to make me understand why you believe he’s not guilty.’ It was hard for all of us.


Juror #1: I mean, we all kind of—at one point a lot of us kind of broke down.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) One floor below, prosecutor Michael Blake was so anxious, so concerned, he was unable to focus on his other work. He did have other cases.

(Courthouse exterior; Blake at desk; photo of Michelle)

Mr. BLAKE: I was wearing a hole in the carpet outside my office. It was a long time.


Mr. BLAKE: OK, I never take juries for granted. It comes back to the old adage, you know what you say, but you don’t know what they hear.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And day after day the O’Keefe family sat in the empty, silent courtroom, and they listened.

(Pat, Mike and Jason in courtroom)

Mr. J. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) While I’m in there waiting, listening for the buzz from the jury, and you’ll hear one buzz, just wait for a second one hoping there’s another one behind it because two buzzes equals verdict.

(Mike, Jason and Pat in courtroom)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: It exhausting mentally. We’re always thinking about it.

We live it. We breathe it day and night.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And so was the jury, still unable to reach a verdict.

(Empty juror chairs)

Unidentified Juror #3: We watched those interviews again, again, again, and, I mean, we really did dissect those interviews.

Unidentified Juror #4: I don’t think we would’ve stayed there for six months, but we were willing to go three more weeks possibly.

Mr. MOSELY: Every...

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Then, after deliberations had gone on almost a month, it was a week before Christmas, a verdict started taking shape. Why then?  Perhaps it was because the court moved to the crime scene one night, and all 12 of them got a firsthand look at every key location. Now they could reflect back on that evening together.

(Scrubland at sunset; courthouse exterior; Park and Ride parking lot; people in parking lot at night)

Juror #4: Site viewing was very important, just to get the feel of where it took place, where Jennings claims he was standing, what he could see. And that fed into, you know, his comments and statements.

Juror #1: We all came to our conclusions at different times. I mean, it wasn’t just one thing that brought one, you know, all of us together. We all decided in our own time, something just clicked.

(Buzzer buzzes twice)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) The sound everybody was waiting for.

(Court in session)

Mr. BLAKE: (Voiceover) It was very tense. The courtroom was filled with bailiffs, security people, family members, media. Looking behind the judge’s bench, there were several judges standing behind to listen to it.

(Court in session)

Unidentified Woman #5: (In court) “We the jury, in the above entitled action, find the defendant Raymond Jennings not guilty of the crime of willful, deliberate and premeditated first-degree murder.”

Det. LONGSHORE: And you’re now thinking, ‘This can’t be happening again.’

Mr. BLAKE: If they did it—if they’d come back not guilty on the second, you know, then we’re done.

Woman #2: (In court) “We, the jury, in the above entitled action, find the defendant Raymond Jennings guilty of the crime of second-degree murder.”

Unidentified Man #4: (In court) Yes!

Woman #2: (In court) “Alleged victim, Michelle O’Keefe, in violation of...”

MORRISON: (Voiceover) And it was odd, perhaps. IN the chaos outside the courtroom, one family was finally calm.

(Jennings in court; Pat outside courthouse; Jason hugging Jeffra; Pat hugging man)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) There was always this little voice that was always kind of active in there, you know, that justice needed to be served.

(O’Keefe family and others hugging)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: And I think now that part of it can go to rest, that justice is served.

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: Mm-hmm. And Michelle can rest in peace.

Mr. BLAKE: I am so grateful that this jury understood what we were trying to show them in the evidence. This is a very compelling case. It has a real strong center, and it’s a case where you have a completely innocent victim who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and murdered by someone who should be protecting her.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But was it really over? Well, no. Raymond Jennings, remember, is a talkative man. Would he finally say what was on his mind? Oh, yes, he would.

(People outside courthouse; Jennings in court)

Mr. JENNINGS: (In court) And I’m at peace in my life, and I laugh and I smile because I hold no remorse.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) When The Girl with the Blue Mustang continues.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) February 2010, 10 years almost to the day since the day Michelle O’Keefe drove her shiny blue Mustang through the streets of the Antelope Valley and smiled at her mother for the last time in her life. This was the day Raymond Lee Jennings was back in court as a convicted killer to be sentenced for his crime; and, as had become ritual at these events, Michelle’s family was invited to say all those pent-up things, 10 years’ worth.

(Driving to courthouse; scrubland; highway passing; Mustang on road; scrubland; photo of Pat and Michelle; court in session)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (In court) When I learned of Michelle’s death, I felt a piece of me die. I have to ask, what kind of demon lives within you to have done such a dastardly act?

MORRISON: (Voiceover) But was it meant to be a challenge? Perhaps.

(Jennings in court)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: (In court) You said you watched her die because you didn’t want to disturb a crime scene. An innocent person wouldn’t say something like that. You will have to live with that image of her dying and taking her last breath.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Here was Michelle’s younger brother Jason, daring, pleading with Jennings, to finally tell the truth, bare his soul for posterity and for God.

(Jason reading in court; Jennings in court)

Mr. J. O’KEEFE: (In court) Today you can repent for your sins, ask God for forgiveness, ask all of us for forgiveness. And if you ask me, I will forgive you.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Was that the trigger that made him do it? Or had Jennings been waiting all along, all through these three trials, these hung juries, waiting to say, ‘Yes, I did it,’ or, ‘I’m sorry.’ That’s what grieving families hope for, of course. So now, in the hushed tension of an expectant courtroom, Raymond Jennings turned and faced the O’Keefe family and said:

(Sentencing trial)

Mr. JENNINGS: (In court) I sit here as an innocent man, and I’ve heard you speak on God. And as Christ is my Lord and savior, I will stand before God, and this is one sin that I will not be judged for. And I’m at peace in my life, and I laugh and I smile because I hold no remorse because I didn’t kill your sister. That is the bottom line. Jesus is my Lord and savior, and I will stand before him, and I’ll stand before him with you, with you and with you, and we’ll answer to this question.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) It was shocking. You could, as they say, hear a pin drop as Jennings wheeled around to the judge for one last profession of his innocence.

(Sentencing trial)

Mr. JENNINGS: (In court) I don’t ask any mercy from this court because I know I don’t have any coming. I will take my time and I will hold my head up as a man. My five children will know the—who their father is, and they will know he is not a murderer.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Families, sad to say, are rarely accorded the grace of hearing a convicted killer confess or apologize or explain. They could only sit and listen as Raymond Lee Jennings received the maximum sentence.

(Photo of Michelle in court; sentencing trial)

Judge CHUNG: (In court) For a total sentence of 40 years to life.

MORRISON: (Voiceover) When he’s eligible for parole for the first time, Jennings will be 70-something.

(Jennings in court; cell door closing)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) You don’t really close the book. The pain will still be there and you kind of work through it.

(Pat, Mike and Jason at cemetery)

Ms. P. O’KEEFE: And we’ll still miss her, but we learned to get through each day.

Mr. J. O’KEEFE: There’s going to become a time in my life when I’m going to have to find it deep down in my heart to forgive him.

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) Based on what we’ve learned, if we can help others who’ve gone through, heaven forbid, similar tragedies, you know, I think that’s probably a big part of our mission in life from here on.

(Mike, Pat and Jason at cemetery)

MORRISON: (Voiceover) Oh, and there’s one more thing. Odd, highly unusual.  The jury, which had spent so much time considering the fate of Michelle O’Keefe, decided before they said their goodbyes to each other to gather one more time at the Park and Ride.

(Grave stone; jurors at Park and Ride memorial)

Unidentified Juror #5: (Voiceover) That was very important for me to do. I, too, have a daughter the same age as Michelle, so as a mom, when we were in the jury room and I was like, ‘OK, you guys, I’m going to go over to the memorial tonight, to the Park and Ride.’ There was a cross there with her picture on it, I really wanted to see her. I haven’t seen her face.

(Jurors at Park and Ride memorial)

Juror #5: All the pictures that we saw were not good.

(Voiceover) We took some roses over there, one for each of us, plus our alternates. I was like, ‘I just need to do this tonight. This is what I’m going to be doing.’

(Jurors at Park and Ride memorial)

Mr. M. O’KEEFE: (Voiceover) And each one of them came up and they set a rose at the base of the cross, and it’s just so—it was incredible. It was probably the most—one of the most touching moments in my life.

(Jurors at Park and Ride memorial)

Ms. M. O’KEEFE: (Home videotape) But you can’t ever, ever forget me, OK?

Because I know I’ll never, ever forget you.