Ryan Ferguson asks appellate court for new trial

Friday, July 24, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Ryan Ferguson has filed an appeal of his 2005 murder conviction, asking the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals to reverse a recent ruling by a Boone County judge that denied him a new trial.

On June 12, Boone County Circuit Judge Jodie Asel rejected Ferguson’s claims that his original legal team was ineffective and that Boone County Circuit Judge Kevin Crane, who was prosecutor in 2005, withheld evidence.

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 and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Ferguson’s high school classmate, Charles Erickson, pleaded guilty and testified at Ferguson’s trial that the two of them – both 17 at the time of the crime – killed Heitholt.

Ferguson is now being represented by Janet Thompson, who typically handles capital murder appeals for the public defender’s office.

The court will consider the issues raised during a three-day evidentiary hearing held in Boone County in July 2008. Ferguson’s appeal argues that Crane failed to tell the defense that another man had claimed to be involved in the murder and that a key witness, Shawna Ornt, said Ferguson and Erickson were not the people she’d seen at the crime scene.

In her ruling, Asel wrote that the man who told police he’d overheard an acquaintance claim involvement in the murder was “grasping at straws to get a better deal from the State.” Asel also said Ornt’s testimony at the July hearing was not credible.

The appellate court will also scrutinize decisions made by Ferguson’s original legal team – Charles Rogers, Jeremy Weis and Kathryn Benson – not to call certain witnesses or investigate certain leads. For example, Ferguson’s appeal claims his lawyers should have called a false confessions expert such as Richard Leo, who testified at the July hearing that Erickson’s confession to police bore some of the hallmarks of a false confession.

The appellate court can decide whether it wants to hear oral arguments. Given the issues involved, Thompson said, she anticipated the court would.

But that stage is still many months and miles of paperwork away. By the time the various deadlines for filing end and the case is submitted to the court for a decision, it will likely be the spring of 2010, Thompson estimated.

In a separate appeal, a judge ruled on Jan. 9 that an unusual jury selection policy in Ferguson’s original trial did not prevent him from having a fair trial. The appeal reached the state Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case in May.

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Bill Ferguson July 24, 2009 | 10:38 a.m.

Ryan was arrested in March 2004 for a murder that took place in the early hours of Nov 1st, 2001 (Halloween night). The trial was Oct. 2005 and Ryan was convicted. We then went through the direct appeal process which took several years which could ONLY deal with what was presented in the original trial. No new evidence or testimony could be introduced. Finally after completing this process and being denied we were allowed to file for Ineffective Assistance of Counsel. Once we reached this level of the appeal process we were finally allowed to subpoena witnesses and introduce new evidence for the first time since Ryan's trial. The IAC procedure took the form of an evidentiary hearing in July of 2008 which lasted 3 days. We introduced over 2 dozen witness many who had not testified before. The purpose of this hearing was to introduce new witnesses and evidence that had not been allowed or called in the original trial. This hearing was heard by a circuit court judge in the Boone County Court (Judge Asel) in the same courthouse and courtroom where Ryan was convicted in 2005. Judge Asel waited over 11 months before making her decision. She finally made her ruling June 12, 2009 in which she denied all of Ryan's claims, including two Brady violations against the former prosecutor Kevin Crane. Asel endorsed all the denials, without exception, that the assistant prosecutor made during the hearing basically rubber stamping everything the assistant prosecutor had said. When one closely reads Judge Asels 42 page findings it's easy to see that her understanding of the facts are distorted, flawed or totally incorrect and inconsistent with the record and testimony. As of July 15h we have filed an appeal with the Western District Appeals Court in Kansas City Mo.

(Report Comment)
Anne Frazier July 24, 2009 | 11:30 a.m.

I have read extensively concerning this case and am appalled by Judge Asel's decision. When is the legal system going to take ownership of the terrible mistakes and unethical behavior on the part of the judges and prosecutors in Boone County? If each and every one of the Missourian readers would take the time to read the latest document put out by Judge Asel there is no other response than to be angered by this unbelievable injustice. Judge Asel made numerous errors in her document. These errors can be verified using the trial transcript, police reports and depositions. I would think that putting out such discrepancies in a legal document would be an embarrassement to the Boone County legal system. Unfortunately they must be assuming that people won't read through the details of the document and take notice of the discrepancies and errors and they must also feel they can get away with such sloppy legal work. After all, who is there checking up on them? It appears no one has that responsibility. Isn't there an ethics board of some kind that should be reviewing this case? When will this terrible wrong ever be set right? If you take the time to examine this case closely it is clear that Ryan Ferguson is innocent.

(Report Comment)
Bill Ferguson July 24, 2009 | 6:17 p.m.

The following is an example of the sloppy work Judge Asel did on Ryan’s Appeal. One would think after 11 months Judge Asel would have found time to read the trial transcript at least once to insure she had the testimony correct.

Either Judge Asel is lazy or incompetent or both.
She is a Judge and should not make mistakes like this.

On page 3 of Judge Asel’s findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, And Judgment June 12, 2009:

Judge Asel writes:
“According to Erickson’s Testimony, at some point Movant realized that he had some money in the glove box so they went back to the club.”

Wrong Judge Asel!
First, Ryan’s car did not have a glove box.
Second, that is not what Erickson said during the trial.

Below is a copy of the Trail Transcript from page 576 and 568

23 Rogers Q. Well, I thought you guys were out of money.
24 Erickson A. Yeah. Well, I don't know if he got money from the
25 victim or not. But I know when we got back to the bar, he
Page 567

1 goes in a compartment in his wallet and he takes out this $20
2 bill,

Page 568

This testimony is important because it shows Erickson is testifying they reentered the club not knowing they had any money.

If they left because they had ran out of money why would they return after 2:45am still without any money?

Erickson failed to mention the money until his deposition June 2005.
They were arrested March 2004.
The prosecutor needed Erickson to add the $20 bill to his story to explain how they were able to buy drinks after returning to the club after 2:45am considering the motive for the crime was supposed to be running out of money.

This testimony again shows how Erickson’s story was just a dream where he continued to change and add to his story.

(Report Comment)
Michelle Goodman July 29, 2009 | 8:08 p.m.

I just saw Ryan's story on a rebroadcast of "48 Hours" on I.D. Discovery last night and I still cannot believe the original jury found him guilty without one shred of evidence to substantiate Erickson's claim. It's terrifying. This could happen to anyone.

(Report Comment)
greg dudzik August 2, 2009 | 9:53 p.m.

the murder took place 2.26am and the bar closed at 1;30 am what did they do break inside the bar,and start drinking

(Report Comment)
dani smith August 8, 2009 | 4:52 p.m.

Im shocked that not only was he convicted,but he was now denied a new trial?!?I just watched 48 hours and ,since i was foored w/ the veredictd to surf for updates.I can't believe it!Erickson said they went back to the bar@ 2:30-bar closed 1:30.He also said they talked to Dallas,wich he denies on CBS 48 HOURS.The janitor that testified on his trial,on the day of the murder couldnt even say color clothing the 2 guys were wearing and had the guts to point at him at the trial.What about thbe hair strands on the victim's hand???I urge people from Columbia to do something about it!This is outrageous!I'm in shock!

(Report Comment)
K H August 10, 2009 | 12:47 a.m.

Before I found this article, I had just posted something about how the defense didn't take the right approach in proving Ryan's case. I'm glad to see he's trying for a new trial. I hope some of the things I posted are approached when he gets a new trial, which I think he will. I can't imagine going all the way through the appeals system with this case and not getting a new trial. The distict attorney in the first trial becoming a Judge says a lot about the judicial system for that area. In his interview on 48 Hour Mystery, he seemed very closed minded and removed from taking any responsiblity or acknowledging how the case was mishandled, but instead made excuses for why he believed Chuck and even his excuses sounded like those of a closed minded person...he's the main reason I think Ryan is innocent. I am not surprised that he surpressed evidence, he sounded like the type to do that. If Ryan's appeal is based on the testimony of others and new witnesses etc. and not based on using the evidence against what his original accusers says, he could be facing more denials. The evidence has to be the witness for him...the evidence has to speak against what Chuck says and against Chuck's demonstrations in court. Stacking more people to speak against what Chuck says is not the same as stacking the evidence against it and making that be the main focal point for the Judge. Judges can pick what person they want to believe, but they can't pick what evidence and for him to get his new trial and win, I think it's going to have to be evidence based. There was too much testimony and not enough evidence in the first trail. And a murder conviction that is soley based on "why would Chuck lie?" is just stupid, but Ryan's lawyers let it get down to that. The Juriors said they convicted because they "didn't believe Ryan"...but "believed the way Chuck looked at him". (That alone is stupid and if any of them were convicted based on something as stupid as that they'd be trying to appeal too). They did not even talk evidence which means there was no evidence to talk about and since the prosecution has evidence, but none that supports a case against Ryan, then Ryan's defense should be able to use that evidence and bring the case back around to being about "does the evidence say he did it?"...not does Chuck say he did it. If Chuck wants to go to prison based on his own word, then fine...let him, but his word is irrelevant when it comes to another person if there's evidence that disproves his word. For all we know the prosocuter and the police made Chuck feel more important than he has ever felt in his entire life and for him it was worth going to jail and taking someone else with him. What does the evidence say about that foot in the back? What does the evidence say about the direction of the pull of the belt when compared to the way Chuck demonstrated it? Were the blows to the head consistent with the way Chuck demonstrated?

(Report Comment)
g thomason October 4, 2009 | 11:06 p.m.

It's frightening to think someone can be convicted based on the evidence presented in this case. He deserves a new trial and based on how the judical system in place there has responded in this case, the new trial should be in a different city.

(Report Comment)
gary neal October 5, 2009 | 1:01 p.m.

Please tell me im still in the United States of America! A television program can easely persuade a point of view.48 hours ect.So I investigated this case as much as a californian can and found it to be amaizing. This has got to be one of the only cases ive ever heard of where a man was convicted on no evidence at all.Even the eyewittness testemony was fabricated."I.E. the janitor" The day after the murder the janitor could not even tell what color the jackets they wore were.What did this prosicuter do?Ive seen people that were set free from prison after DNA evidence proved them innocent.But in those cases there was alot of cercomstancial evidence.Here there is none none none.This note is for Ryan.The powers that be soon will come to you and say lets drop this.We will walk away if you do.Hence one of your appeals will be granted.It will be enough for the victoms family and for the state ect. ect.They will tell you sighn this and get on with your life.Your lawers might even agree.For god sake this is your calling.That power hungry evil prosicuter and all his cohorts should be in prison or at the very least disbarred.Judge now!! How appropriat.I saw that man on camera and even from here could tell he was a liar or the most overrated human,wow!. The jury,what can you say O.J. in reverse? Or just wanting to believe the prosicuter ,no way could that guy be lieing.Ryan was a little removed lets say.I think I would be too.Seriously!!! A robbery for more drinking money 45 minutes after that bar had closed What more do you need? But you have Chuck buying drinks at that closed bar with Ryan,You have bullied whitnesses.Stop lights that are'nt The whole thing is just a messed up kid whithout the prosicuter,he is the evil here.Damn him if you can. Im so so sorry for you Ryan. Hang in there

(Report Comment)
Bree Rubio November 10, 2009 | 5:43 p.m.

I just saw Ryan's story on a re-run of 48 Hours. I am shocked. I 'googled' his story hoping to have found that he and his legal team were able to get a new trial. I absolutely cannot believe this. I don't know if Ryan is guilty or innocent...what I DO KNOW is that the prosecutor proved nothing. How can he sleep at night? This is serioulsy messed up. Even if Ryan was guilty, we have to respect our legal system...this 'accomplice' Chuck seems nuts...and just blindly accepting the testimony of this nut seems really reckless and irresponsible...I don't know how many of you agree with me but I would rather see a guilty person go free once in a while if it meant that the rest of us would receive 'safe, fair' trials (i.e. proof beyond a reasonable doubt) if we ever end up in court. Shame on the State of pathetic!

(Report Comment)
John Santori November 10, 2009 | 10:12 p.m.

What I am just wondering is why Ryan's lawyer
did not argue the lack of physical evidence.
Convicting someone based on one self-
serving man is a travesty of justice. Hang
on there Ryan, the real justice will be served.

(Report Comment)
Leslie Mapa January 28, 2010 | 12:58 p.m.

I just watched this story and then read more on the web about this case. This is a travesty. There was so much reasonable doubt at this trial it was pathetic. This kid is innocent and very unlucky to have the most inept bunch of jurist imaginable.

I have a son and this is the one of the worst nighmares a parent could go through, watching their son's life being taken away.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Molzan March 27, 2011 | 7:46 a.m.

Unbelievable! Is this the 1960's or what?? With all the DNA technology solving old cases and with all the blood at the scene in this case the Police have really proven they are out just to put "somebody" away. There had to be DNA at the scene that would prove Erickson did it "if" he did it and also prove that Ryan did not. If it is found that Ryan is innocent then Kevin Crane should be sent to prison!! He is as guilty as the real murderer.Lets get into the 21st century here people. It should not take years to get a re-trial. The US justice system is really screwed up! I'm glad I'm Canadian!!

(Report Comment)

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