Almost 40 years after killing a teenage hitchhiker, an Oklahoma man has admitted to the fatal shooting.
John Benjamin Kennedy Jr. agreed to serve a 35-year prison sentence for the murder.
“On Oct. 25, 1976, I killed Virginia Kegans by shooting her in Oklahoma City with malice aforethought,” he admitted in his plea paperwork.
Caught by his own DNA and facing trial in January, Kennedy pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Dec. 20 in Oklahoma County District Court after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Kennedy already is serving a life sentence in prison for the infamous strangulation of a 15-year-old prostitute at an Oklahoma City motel in 1978.
Under his plea agreement, he was allowed to start his new 35-year prison term at the same time he finishes his life term.
Prosecutors said he is unlikely to ever get out of prison, though, since he must complete almost 30 years of his new term before he is eligible for parole on it.
Kennedy is now 58.
The victim — whose full name was Virginia Grace Kegans — was shot in the head by a .38-caliber bullet, and her throat was slit, prosecutors said. She was 17.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said her relatives gave their approval to the plea agreement. He said her family members were very pleased with the outcome.
Two men looking for scrap metal found her body about 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 25, 1976, in Oklahoma City under an Interstate 40 bridge near what was then called the North Canadian River.
Her death was one of about 300 cold cases that a special Oklahoma City police unit and a district attorney investigator reviewed. Investigators found that DNA evidence from her underwear still existed.
A search of law enforcement records for matching DNA profiles led investigators to Kennedy. He was charged in 2010 with first-degree murder in Kegans' death.
He denied in a police interview in prison in 2010 that he knew the victim.
Kegans left a Pizza Hut in north Oklahoma City, where she worked as a waitress, about 11:45 p.m. Oct. 24, 1976, to go see a boyfriend in Norman, authorities said.
She instead visited with her boyfriend's roommate and stepbrother, Phillip Leslie Hanlin.
She left the apartment about 4 a.m. Oct. 25, 1976.
Hanlin testified at a preliminary hearing he offered to give Kegans a ride if she could wait until he returned from taking his roommate to work later that morning.
“She said she could not wait, that she had promised somebody that she would baby-sit for them that morning and that she herself needed to be there by 7 a.m. or so at the latest,” Hanlin testified.
“She said she was going to go back the same way she came, which was to hitchhike.”
Prosecutors suspect Kennedy picked her up as she hitchhiked back to Oklahoma City.
At the time, Kennedy worked as a bouncer at the Whiskey River Bar in Norman and lived in Midwest City. He was then 21.
He admitted to police in the 2010 prison interview that he had owned a .38-caliber pistol at the time.
In December 1978, an Oklahoma County jury chose a life sentence for Kennedy after finding him guilty of first-degree murder for the prostitute's death.
The 1978 case is considered a landmark case because it was the first time bite-mark evidence was used against a defendant at a criminal trial in Oklahoma. The Court of Criminal Appeals in 1982 upheld the conviction.
The victim, Yvonne Jolene McFaddin, a runaway from Texas, had been strangled by a wire and left half nude in a dry bathtub at the King's Inn Motel in downtown Oklahoma City on May 31, 1978, court records show. Kennedy had bitten her breasts, prosecutors alleged.