COLUMBIA — Ryan Ferguson has filed a new appeal of his murder conviction in the Western District Court of Appeals, claiming that an unusual jury selection policy denied him a fair trial.
In an appeal of a Jan. 9 decision by Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan, Ferguson claimed that the policy, which allowed potential jurors to opt out of service by performing six hours of community service, prevented him from having a jury composed of a random cross-section of the population.
In rejecting Ferguson’s appeal, Callahan said the policy “clearly violates” a Missouri law, but not to a degree that was unfair to Ferguson. He noted that only 13 of the 848 potential jurors chose the community service option.
Callahan also said it was too late for Ferguson to raise the jury selection issue. Ferguson’s attorneys should have discovered the policy and challenged it at the time of his trial in 2005, Callahan said.
But Ferguson’s public defender, Valerie Leftwich, argued at a hearing in December 2008 that it was unreasonable to expect Ferguson’s lawyers to have discovered the policy when even local attorneys were unaware of it.
Lincoln County Circuit Judge Dan Dildine created the policy to accommodate people who weren’t exempt by statute but would have been significantly inconvenienced by having to serve.
Ferguson, who is serving a 40-year sentence, was convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in connection with the 2001 killing of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt. He has maintained his innocence and filed a number of appeals.
Ferguson’s friend Charles Erickson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action and testified against Ferguson. Erickson is serving a 25-year sentence.
Ferguson is also awaiting a ruling from Boone County Circuit Judge Jodie Asel in a separate appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel.