OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma man pleaded guilty this month to first-degree murder in the 1976 slaying of a teenage hitchhiker.
John Benjamin Kennedy Jr. entered the guilty plea on Dec. 20 ahead of a January trial for the death of Virginia Kegans, The Oklahoman newspaper reported Monday.
“On Oct. 25, 1976, I killed Virginia Kegans by shooting her in Oklahoma City with malice aforethought,” Kennedy admitted in his plea paperwork, according to the newspaper.
Kennedy, 58, agreed to serve a 35-year prison sentence for the slaying.
He is already is serving a life sentence for the strangulation of a 15-year-old at an Oklahoma City motel in 1978.
Under the plea agreement, Kennedy was allowed to start the new 35-year term when he finishes his life sentence. Prosecutors say he likely won’t ever get out of prison because he has to complete almost 30 years of his new term before he is eligible for parole.
Kegans, 17, was shot in the head and her throat was slit, prosecutors said.
Two men looking for scrap metal found Kegans’ body on Oct. 25, 1976, in Oklahoma City under an Interstate 40 bridge near what was then called the North Canadian River, The Oklahoman reported.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said Kegans’ relatives approved the plea agreement.
Kegans’ death was one of about 300 cold cases that a special Oklahoma City police unit and a district attorney investigator reviewed.
Investigators found DNA evidence, and 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, according to The Oklahoman.
Kegans left a Pizza Hut in Oklahoma City, where she worked as a waitress, about 11:45 p.m. Oct. 24, 1976, to visit her 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 that 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, according to The Oklahoman.
“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, the newspaper reported.
At the time, Kennedy worked as a bouncer at the Whiskey River Bar in Norman and lived in Midwest City.