Who Killed Michelle O’Keefe? Teen Found Dead in Mustang After Kid Rock Video Shoot
A wrongfully convicted man spent 11 years behind bars for the murder, but he was acquitted in 2017.
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A teenager who spent a day on a video shoot in California was later discovered dead in her vehicle, and a man falsely accused of fatally shooting her would spend 11 years in prison before a judge acquitted him of her murder.
On Feb. 22, 2000, Michelle O’Keefe, 18, joined her friend Jennifer Peterson at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles for a Kid Rock project. Later that evening, Peterson dropped O’Keefe off at a Palmdale park-and-ride lot where she had left her blue Mustang. Peterson then drove away after she saw O’Keefe get inside the vehicle and switch on the lights, the Los Angeles Times reported.
At around 9:30 p.m. emergency responders discovered O’Keefe unresponsive and partially undressed in the blood-spattered front seat of the Mustang, which was still parked in the lot. An autopsy determined she had been shot multiple times.
Robbery reportedly didn’t appear to be a motive in the case since the victim’s purse and money were still in the car, but there were few other clues to go on.
During the police investigation, detectives learned security guard Ray Jennings was hired to patrol the park-and-ride, and he had called 911 after finding O’Keefe shot in the vehicle. According to the Los Angeles Times, detectives began to zero in on Jennings as the main suspect in the case because he failed to attempt CPR on O’Keefe — he said she was still clinging to life when he discovered her — out of fear he could possibly contaminate the crime scene.
In December 2005, nearly six years after O’Keefe was shot to death, Jennings was charged with her murder. Despite having no physical evidence against Jennings, he was convicted at his third trial (the first two resulted in hung juries) and sentenced to serve up to life in prison for the teenager’s murder.
Jennings had been incarcerated for years when father and son Jeffrey and Clinton Ehrlich reportedly began to look into the case and concluded Jennings likely didn’t commit the homicide. The two contended O’Keefe’s killing was the result of a violent robbery or carjacking attempt, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“There were other people at the scene, and the D.A.’s office was aware of them, but they only looked at Mr. Jennings,” Jeffrey Ehrlich said, according to the publication.
The men told prosecutors in a letter that an eyewitness recalled seeing a man flee the park-and-ride in a Toyota Tercel, and an alleged street gang member was in the area the night of the murder.
Thanks, in part, to the pair’s efforts, Jennings was released from prison in June 2016.
The evidence, in part, seemed to “undermine the entire prosecution case and point unerringly to innocence or reduced culpability,” the judge said at the time, KTLA reported.
Jennings was acquitted of the murder charge in January 2017.
O’Keefe’s murder remains unsolved.