How an Ex-FBI Profiler Helped Put an Innocent Man in Prison


Exasperated, Jeffrey Ehrlich paused the true-crime television show every couple of minutes. The same thought kept running through the attorney’s mind: “No, that’s wrong.”

The episode of “Killer Instinct” highlighted how the work of a retired FBI profiler had helped convict Ehrlich’s client of killing an 18-year-old woman in a Palmdale parking lot.

There were no fingerprints left behind, no murder weapon. But clues from the crime scene caught the profiler’s attention. The driver’s-side window of the victim’s car had been lowered several inches, suggesting to the profiler that the teen had rolled it down when someone who looked trustworthy approached. And her tube top was askew — a sign, the profiler said, of a botched sexual assault.

“No, no, no,” Ehrlich said, stopping the show again. He thought the episode — titled “Sudden Death” — needed a new name: “Here’s How We Convicted an Innocent Man of Murder.”

Years after the profiler’s testimony helped secure a murder conviction, the case against Ehrlich’s client, Raymond Lee Jennings, has unraveled in dramatic fashion.

After reinvestigating the case, authorities now suspect gang members killed Michelle O’Keefe and that the motive was robbery, not sexual assault. The profiler, Mark Safarik, has withdrawn his testimony. And a judge earlier this year declared Jennings — the security guard who patrolled the lot the night of the murder — factually innocent, putting a capstone on his legal nightmare that included 11 years behind bars.

The wrongful conviction has renewed questions about the credibility of profiling and focused attention on the role played by Safarik, the star of the season-long television show “Killer Instinct,” whose testimony was considered crucial at Jennings’ trial.

In an interview with The Times, Safarik defended his analysis of the crime scene, saying he still harbors doubts about Jennings’ innocence. He agreed to withdraw his testimony, he said, after learning that homicide investigators hadn’t interviewed everyone who had been at the scene of the killing, but having the information wouldn’t have necessarily led him to a different conclusion.

In recent decades, profilers have captured the public’s imagination as the stars of a plethora of television shows and movies. In the real world, they work to help detectives predict the likely characteristics of a criminal in an unsolved case and explain to jurors how evidence left at crime scenes can reveal a killer’s motive or modus operandi.

But there is a deep chasm in legal and academic circles about how much credibility to give profilers. Many detectives credit them with helping investigations, but some researchers have criticized profiling as nothing more than glorified guesswork.

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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