Viral campaign raises thousands for wrongfully convicted Iraq-war vet

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When Sergeant Ray Jennings came home from Iraq, he was arrested at gunpoint and sentenced to life in prison for murder. After his exoneration last week, Americans are marking the Fourth of July by thanking Jennings for his service.

Jennings in uniform before his deployment to Iraq

Jennings in uniform before deploying to Iraq

Ray risked his life for our country. This is the least we can do to pay him back.

A social-media campaign called #RepayRay has raised almost $10,000 dollars to help Sgt. Jennings rebuild his life after 11 years behind bars as an innocent man. Organizers hope to raise enough money to help Jennings’ five children, who have lived in poverty since his arrest.

Donations are being collected at

During the Iraq war, Jennings commanded a team that searched door-to-door for high-value terrorists. On one mission he was nearly killed when an IED exploded beneath his Humvee.

While visiting home, he was arrested at gunpoint and charged with the 2000 murder of 18-year-old Michelle O’Keefe in a commuter parking lot. Jennings had witnessed the shooting while working part-time as a security guard to earn extra income for his family.

The physical evidence all pointed away from Jennings. There was no gunshot residue on his uniform, and no DNA, hair, or fibers to suggest he had any contact with O’Keefe. Another man’s blood was found beneath her fingernails.

In February 2005, the D.A.’s office declined to prosecute the case. “There is simply insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jennings did the killing,” wrote Deputy District Attorney Robert Foltz.

Ten months later, without any new evidence, Foltz charged Jennings with first-degree murder. “I can’t put my finger on precisely what the difference is,” Foltz told the Daily News on December 14, 2005, “but it was clear we had a fileable case.”

Two juries in Los Angeles were unwilling to convict Jennings. But prosecutors prevailed when the third trial was moved back to the small desert community where the murder occurred. A local jury convicted Jennings after prosecutor Michael Blake told them in closing argument that they could presume the defendant was guilty.

Last week, the DA's office admitted that Jennings appeared to be innocent. "The people no longer have confidence in the conviction," Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace told the judge at a June 23 habeas hearing in Superior Court case number MA033712.

Jennings walked out of court a free man, but the State did not offer him any compensation for his 11-year ordeal. He was released onto the street with no money, no clothes, and nowhere to stay.

“That’s why we started #RepayRay,” said Clint Ehrlich, the law student who spearheaded the campaign to free Jennings. “Ray risked his life for our country. This is the least we can do to pay him back.”

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Clint Ehrlich