Crime & Justice

Former security guard convicted in shooting death of college student

LANCASTER — A former security guard was convicted today of second-degree murder for the shooting death of a female college student in the Palmdale park-and-ride lot where he worked nearly 10 years ago.

The Lancaster Superior Court panel — which acquitted Raymond Lee Jennings of a first-degree murder charge — was the third jury to hear the case against him.

The first two juries to hear the case deadlocked. The first jury split 9-3 in April 2008 in favor of guilt and the second jury split 11-1 last February, with the majority voting in favor of convicting him. Jennings was charged in the Feb. 22, 2000, slaying of 18-year-old Antelope Valley College student Michelle O'Keefe.

The latest panel — which heard the case at the Lancaster courthouse — got the case against Jennings on Nov. 24.

The 35-year-old defendant, who had served in the Iraq war during a stint with the National Guard, is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 22. He is facing a maximum 40-year-to-life term, according to the prosecutor.

Jennings' attorney could not be reached for immediate comment on the verdict.

The prosecutor said Jennings murdered O'Keefe after she returned to her vehicle, which she had left at the lot so she could carpool with a friend to a Kid Rock video shoot in Los Angeles, where they worked as paid extras.

"The mistake he made was assuming that she was a prostitute,'' Deputy District Attorney Michael Blake told jurors in Jennings' second trial. "Her fatal mistake in this interaction was standing up for herself.''

Defense attorney M. David Houchin maintained that there was no direct or physical evidence linking his client to the slaying.

He asked a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to dismiss the murder charge following the second jury's deadlock, but that request was denied. The judge said then that the third trial would "undoubtedly be the final trial.''