- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A former security guard who was held 11 years behind bars for the killing of a college student had his conviction tossed out Monday after a judge ruled that new evidence undermined the prosecution’s case.

Raymond Lee Jennings, 42, always maintained he had nothing to do with the fatal shooting of Michelle O’Keefe in a Palmdale parking lot in 2000.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Ryan ordered Jennings released in June after prosecutors requested the move, saying newly discovered evidence pointed to his innocence.

The case was the first brought by the district attorney’s conviction review unit formed in 2015 to investigate possible wrongful convictions.

New evidence shows O’Keefe may have been killed during a robbery by two gang members, identified only as Jane and John Doe, Ryan wrote.

Jennings, a military veteran, was convicted of second-degree murder at his third trial on circumstantial evidence after two previous juries deadlocked. He was sentenced to a term of 40 years to life in prison.

Although prosecutors sought to reverse the conviction, O’Keefe’s family objected to it.

Patricia O’Keefe had told the court that 32 jurors, one trial judge and three appeals court justices had felt there was enough evidence to convict Jennings of her daughter’s murder, Ryan said.

“But justice is not measured by the number of people who support the conviction,” Ryan wrote. “While to the O’Keefe’s and others it may feel it is unjust to now grant Jennings relief, it is even more unjust to keep a man in prison who has been excluded by lawful authorities as the perpetrator after an investigation, and further, as to whom those authorities now acknowledge to not merely be not guilty of the crime, but factually innocent of it.”

The original prosecutor in the case, Deputy District Attorney Michael Blake, said in a statement that he understood how new facts in the case led his office to lose confidence in the conviction. He refrained from further comment because the investigation has been reopened.

Jennings burst into tears when he read the ruling Monday, he told the Los Angeles Times (https://lat.ms/2klVCd7).

“It’s something I’ve been waiting for for a very long time,” he said. “I’m totally free.”

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