LETTER: Story about Ferguson's appeals process misinterprets defense's strategy

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 2:05 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 17, 2010
In this videotaped sworn statement taken on Nov. 22 at Potosi Correctional Center, Charles Erickson says that he alone beat and strangled Kent Heitholt. Because of the large file size for this 12-minute video, it may take a while to load in your browser.

I feel compelled to comment on Matt Pearce’s article, "Ferguson still faces tough road ahead," because of several inaccuracies. The representation that Ryan Ferguson supports his innocence by using “simple, unattributed declarative sentences” is incorrect. The quotes are from Chuck Erickson’s statement. We don’t have the luxury of changing Erickson’s exact words even if the words are “simple."

The conclusion in the article by Mr. Pearce that the Joseph Amrine decision is “emblematic of the low credence courts put in recanted testimonies” is illogical. The Missouri Supreme Court accepted the recanted testimony and the defendant was released.

A statement by Katherine Goldwasser, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, that because Erickson was on the stand and cross-examined ends the story is ridiculous. If the jury had heard Erickson’s confession to the crime, Ferguson never would have been convicted. Is she seriously arguing that Missouri has no procedure for bringing new evidence before the court? What happens if DNA evidence is discovered that exonerates the defendant? Would Goldwasser argue that it is too late for DNA evidence because a trial has taken place?

Mr. Pearce thinks two strategies are being employed by the defense in using Erickson’s new statement. He is wrong. Erickson is telling the truth now because of the enhanced penalties he faces. Erickson, admittedly, lied at trial because he wanted to get a lighter sentence than Ferguson. I understand that journalists like to use cute phrases like “dog-whistle logic," but the facts should not be misconstrued to create a ha-ha moment for the readers.

Now, I realize how biased the media is against Mr. Ferguson. Here we have a confession by Mr. Erickson admitting he “enjoyed” killing Kent Heitholt and that the experience made him "psychotically giddy.” The media focus is not on this stunning admission but rather on the issue of whether Ferguson committed perjury when he testified he was not at the crime scene.

Erickson’s trial testimony contradicts Ferguson’s testimony in a dozen ways.  Ferguson was not charged with perjury at that time. Again, the main point is not whether Ferguson was home in bed or at the crime scene. Erickson has absolved Ferguson of all involvement in the robbery and murder. 

The relevant inquiry is whether Erickson lied to Ferguson’s jury, not whether Ferguson lied about being at the crime scene and not participating. By his own words, Erickson lied to Ferguson’s jury, multiple times — end of story. A conviction based on the perjured testimony of the prosecutor’s key witness cannot stand. If Professor Goldwasser can find any case in the country that says such a conviction can stand, please send it to us immediately. I would direct her to People v. Burrows.

Kathleen Zellner is an attorney representing Ryan Ferguson who was quoted in a Missourian report on the case that was published Sunday.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Bill Ferguson February 16, 2010 | 2:28 p.m.

I enjoyed reading Kathleen Zellner's corrections of an earlier story.
The law is complex and can be misunderstood by many of us without a strong legal back ground.

(Report Comment)
lacinda florez March 12, 2010 | 12:46 p.m.

I think Ryan has suffered long enough for a crime in which he didn't commit. Let him out so he can start his life over.

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.