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Third trial of ex-security guard charged with murder can proceed, judge rules

Two juries have failed to reach a unanimous verdict in the case against Raymond Lee Jennings, accused of fatally shooting an 18-year-old college student at a Palmdale park-and-ride nine years ago.

March 17, 2009|Jack Leonard

A Los Angeles judge ruled Monday that prosecutors can move forward with a third trial of a former security guard charged with fatally shooting an 18-year-old college student at a Palmdale park-and-ride nine years ago.

Two juries have failed to reach a unanimous verdict in the case against Raymond Lee Jennings, with the most recent panel deadlocking last month 11 to 1 in favor of guilt. Last year, another jury was hung 9 to 3 in favor of a conviction.

Defense attorney David Houchin noted in court papers that prosecutors have no physical evidence linking Jennings, 34, to the killing of Michelle O'Keefe.

He argued that another trial would reduce the case to "a game of chance, another roll of the dice."

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Blake responded that Jennings should be tried again, saying that a third trial would result in a conviction.

Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson said he believed a unanimous verdict was possible but indicated he would not allow a fourth trial if the next ended in deadlock.

"It will undoubtedly be the final trial," Johnson said.

In a rare move, the judge upbraided Blake for saying in court papers that a juror's dream about the case had led to three members of the first jury voting against a conviction and for quoting a juror from the second panel who described its lone holdout juror as "irrational."

"It disparaged the jurors from the two trials . . . I find these statements outrageous," Johnson said. He added that Blake had otherwise performed professionally throughout the two trials. "I'm simply going to chalk this up to a bad case of temporary insanity," the judge said.

Blake said after the hearing that he never set out to belittle jurors, saying he was merely quoting what other jurors had told prosecutors, detectives and O'Keefe's relatives about their deliberations. He said the statements were part of his analysis for the judge about whether a third jury would be likely to reach a verdict.

"I would never intentionally disparage a juror for doing their job," Blake said. "All of these jurors did their duty."

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jack.leonard@latimes.com

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