Ferguson attorney files jury-selection appeal with Supreme Court

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 10:02 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 15, 2009

COLUMBIA – Ryan Ferguson’s appeal of the jury selection process in his 2005 murder trial has reached the state’s highest court.

Ferguson’s attorney, public defender Valerie Leftwich, has filed the appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court, which has not yet decided whether to hear the case. In the appeal, Ferguson says a Lincoln County policy that allowed potential jurors to opt out of jury duty by performing six hours of community service prevented him from having a jury composed of a random cross-section of the population.

Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan rejected the appeal Jan. 9, noting in his decision that only 13 of the 848 potential jurors chose the community service option. Although the policy “clearly violates” a Missouri law, he wrote, it did not prevent Ferguson from having a randomly selected jury. Furthermore, he said, it is too late for Ferguson to raise the issue.

The Missouri Western District Court of Appeals declined to hear the case March 31. If the state Supreme Court also declines to hear the case, Leftwich said, she does not plan on trying to raise the jury selection issue in federal court.

Janet Thompson, a public defender who handles capital cases and argues before the state Supreme Court regularly, is now assisting Leftwich. Ferguson’s defense team has asked the court to hold oral arguments.

Ferguson 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 is serving a 40-year sentence and has maintained that he is innocent.

Ferguson's former high school classmate, Charles Erickson, pleaded guilty in 2004 to the second-degree murder of Heitholt, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action and testified against Ferguson. Erickson is serving a 25-year sentence.

Ferguson also is awaiting a ruling from Boone County Circuit Judge Jodie Asel in a separate appeal that states his original lawyers were ineffective.


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