Top trial attorney Kathleen Zellner getting results for Ferguson

Monday, February 8, 2010 | 7:00 p.m. CST; updated 10:16 p.m. CST, Monday, February 8, 2010

COLUMBIA — Ryan Ferguson is seeing results from his new lawyer.

Chicago-based attorney Kathleen Zellner began working for Ferguson in November 2009, just a few weeks before Chuck Erickson recanted his testimony that Ferguson had killed Kent Heitholt.

Ferguson's father, Bill Ferguson, became aware of Zellner through a piece on the TV program "20/20" about her experience with wrongful convictions. He sent her an e-mail at midnight that night, he said, and at noon the next day she called him for a chat that went on for 45 minutes.

"It turns out that she actually had seen the '48 Hours' (piece about Ferguson) about three years ago and told her husband that if there was ever an innocent boy, that Ryan Ferguson was it and she would have defended him," Bill Ferguson said.

Within two weeks, Zellner arrived in Columbia and was walking through the crime scene with Bill Ferguson. She also met with Ryan Ferguson and agreed to do much of the work pro bono, Bill Ferguson said.

Zellner is one of the the National Law Journal's top trial attorneys in the United States, according to the Web site of her firm, Kathleen T. Zellner and Associates. Zellner has worked on several wrongful conviction cases. In the case profiled by "20/20," she secured a $15.5 million settlement for a man who was arrested on suspicion of his daughter's murder.

Actress Jessica Biel is scheduled to play Zellner in a movie about an appeal case called ''Privileged Information."

"She really is on top of her game," Bill Ferguson said.

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