A man who witnesses said committed a 1980 Orange County murder for which a wrongly convicted man spent 20 years in prison has been set free, and prosecutors have no immediate plans to charge him in connection with the case.
Raymond Herman Jackett, 41, was paroled April 15 from Ironwood State Prison in Blythe, where he had been held on drug and fraud charges unrelated to the December 1980 slaying of a Burger King assistant manager.
DeWayne McKinney was convicted of that murder, but last year, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas obtained McKinney's release after two witnesses said they believed Jackett committed the killing. Jackett, who declined news interviews in prison, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Authorities as well as legal experts have said it would be difficult to build a case against Jackett two decades after the murder. The biggest problem, they said, is witnesses' original identification of McKinney as the killer before some recanted. The murder weapon was never found, and authorities could not match fingerprints from the crime scene with any suspect.
"There's no immediate plans to prosecute him, but it is an open investigation," said Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Chuck Middleton.
McKinney, free for the past 15 months, said he was disheartened to learn Jackett has been released. "It's hard to believe they would let that man get away with that, given the case," McKinney said.
McKinney has filed a $10-million federal lawsuit against Orange police, who investigated the case, and the public defender's office, which represented him at trial. In the suit, McKinney contends a detective induced witnesses to implicate him and defense attorneys failed to pursue leads to Jackett.
Witnesses said a gunman entered the Burger King on Chapman Avenue in Orange near closing time, jumped a counter and forced several employees into a walk-in refrigerator before confronting Walter Horace Bell, 19, in the office. Bell was shot in the back of the head.
McKinney was arrested after one of the surviving Burger King employees identified his photograph as that of the killer. Another employee later identified McKinney from a lineup, and four employees testified against him at trial.
The public defender's office began reexamining the case in 1997 after a man who said he was the getaway driver told them Jackett was the killer. After viewing photographs, two witnesses agreed.