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Oklahoma man admits to killing hitchhiker in 1976

John Benjamin Kennedy Jr., 58, already was in prison already for a 1978 murder when DNA evidence linked him to 1976 hitchhiker's death in Oklahoma City. He agreed Dec. 20 to a 35-year prison sentence.
by Nolan Clay Published: December 30, 2013

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.

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by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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