Erickson's reversal meets mixed reactions

Monday, February 8, 2010 | 7:39 p.m. CST; updated 10:14 p.m. CST, Monday, February 8, 2010

COLUMBIA — Charlie Rogers, the Kansas City attorney who defended Ryan Ferguson in his trial for the murder of Kent Heitholt, said he wasn't surprised that Chuck Erickson has changed his story. But he said he still doesn't believe Erickson killed Heitholt.

"I don't think Chuck Erickson told the truth about he and Ryan being involved, and I don't think he was involved either," he said. "For him to have recanted, I'm definitely in favor of, but for him to say he acted alone, that makes no sense to me. But then again, a lot of what Chuck Erickson has done makes no sense to me."

Erickson’s new sworn statement claiming sole responsibility for the murder upturns the prominent case and gives the Ferguson family’s campaign of innocence new momentum.

Ferguson's father, Bill Ferguson, who has been the architect of a public relations campaign to clear his son, declined to speak at length about Monday's new development. But he said the family is excited about the news.

"It's been a long, slow process," he said. "We understand the court moves ever so slowly. It sounds like it's finally come about."

Bill Ferguson said he has already received a call from representatives of the CBS program "48 Hours Mystery" expressing interest in doing another show about the case. The program devoted a show called "Dream Killer" to the case in 2006.

For some who knew Heitholt, Erickson’s statement reopens a case they thought was closed. Although Ferguson’s family continued their efforts to free him, the courts denied appeal after appeal.

"I'm surprised," said Jim Robertson, the Columbia Daily Tribune’s managing editor. "I don't know what else to say. If Chuck Erickson acted alone, then Ryan Ferguson should be freed. I thought it was a done deal, but I guess it's not."

Robertson said he was “baffled” that Erickson could have been so adamant that he and Ferguson acted together.

"It's befuddling, but if that's what happened, that's what happened," he said. "I hope that out of all of this, the truth emerges."

Robertson said most of the people who knew Heitholt have left the Tribune in the eight years since he was killed.

"It's really a personal thing for just a very few of us," he said.

George Mazurak, an associate city editor at the Tribune who worked with Heitholt, said Erickson's statement "comes from out of the blue" and leaves a number of questions.

"Everyone is interested in seeing justice done," he said. "But justice sometimes takes a while to get everything sorted out."

A telephone message left for 13th Judicial Circuit Judge Kevin Crane, who prosecuted the case before he was elected to the bench, was not returned, nor was one to Columbia Police Detective John Short, the principal investigator.

Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight, who acted as co-counsel with Crane, said he was “looking into the situation” but declined to comment further.

Kali Heitholt, Kent Heitholt’s daughter, declined to comment.

Reporter Chris Hamby contributed to this report.

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