State argues Ferguson's new evidence was introduced improperly

Thursday, February 18, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 8:47 a.m. CST, Thursday, February 18, 2010

COLUMBIA — The state wouldn’t oppose holding a hearing to examine Charles Erickson’s new sworn statement that he alone robbed and murdered Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt — just not right now.

In a court document filed by the state Tuesday opposing Ryan Ferguson’s motion to remand his post-conviction case to the trial court in Boone County, the state argued that Missouri rules of criminal procedure bar Ferguson from introducing new evidence — such as Erickson’s recantation and confession — at this stage of his case.

“The state is not averse to holding a full and fair evidentiary hearing to test the validity of the newly available evidence set forth in Mr. Ferguson’s motion,” the filing says.  “But Mr. Ferguson’s motion for remand is not properly addressed to this Court.”

Shaun Mackelprang, the attorney general’s chief counsel for criminal appeals, declined to comment on what might be a more appropriate time and place to present Erickson’s new testimony.

Ferguson’s motion to remand,  which is now before the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District, includes a videotaped sworn statement in which Erickson says he lied during his testimony at Ferguson’s trial in 2005. Erickson originally testified that he beat Heitholt with a tire tool, Ferguson strangled Heitholt to death and the two then robbed the victim. 

But, in his new statement, Erickson says he alone beat and strangled Heitholt while Ferguson tried to stop him.

Heitholt was found dead in the parking lot of the Columbia Daily Tribune early on Nov. 1, 2001. Erickson testified that he began to have "snapshot" memories of committing the crime two years later.

Erickson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action and is serving a 25-year sentence. Ferguson, who was convicted largely on Erickson's testimony against him, is serving 40 years for second-degree murder and first-degree robbery.

In the motion to remand, Ferguson’s lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, cites cases in which Missouri appellate courts have granted a remand to allow the trial court to consider newly discovered evidence.  But Mackelprang notes that many of these cases were in the direct appeal stage, a line of appeals Ferguson has already exhausted. Other cases cited by Zellner are different enough from Ferguson’s case that they’re not applicable, according to Mackelprang.

The appellate court will review Ferguson’s motion and the state’s opposition and will likely rule in the next few days, a spokesperson for the court clerk said.  If the court denies the motion, it would then base its decision on evidence presented during an evidentiary hearing held in July 2008 in the 13th Circuit for Boone County.

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Jan Davis February 18, 2010 | 6:55 p.m.

First, you get a mentally unstable young man confessing to this crime. He knows nothing about the crime,but he dreamt he did it, and so he must be guilty. The entire interrogation team was more worried about saving their jobs than doing the right thing. Now we have a judical system, hearing this same mentally unstable young man yet again changing his story. He doesn't know the truth, because he is not mentally stable enough to know it. He simply had a dream, confessed it to the authorities, they wanted to solve the crime so badly and were too lazy to do their job, that they took his "confession" and gave him all the details that he could not and never will be able to provide unless told to him. Now, he AGAIN changes his story and Ryan Ferguson continues to sit in prison based solely on a dream from a disturbed young man. When are the officials in Missouri going to wake up and smell the coffee? How much more will it take? Chuck Erickson needs HELP. Ryan needs to go home. Ask any one of that team of so called well trained professionals if that happened to one of their kids or anyone they cared about if they would have handled it the same way. If they answer yes, they are lying. There is no way anyone with a brain would take that confession and let it lead to the incarceration of either Ryan or Chuck. Had it happened to anyone, that they cared about, they would have fought hard for justice. As it was a crime they needed to solve, and they had no feelings for eiher Ryan or Chuck, they were just too lazy to do their jobs. Kevin Crane needs to go on public TV, apologize for his incompetent and uncaring handling of this case, then he needs to resign. If he doesn't do it on his own, the public should demand his resignation and someone with some common sense there should do what should have been done in the first place, get Chuck some help and disregard anything he says or does. How many dreams has he had that he committed a crime, and why can't these officals see it for what it was and is? The rest of the american public does, where is their sense of honor and pride? Do they really think they solved this crime? That would be funny if this whole thing were not so tragic. I thought they were trained to see mental illness, I thought they were trained to see false confessions. If they were, they ignored it on this one. Judge Asel, Kevin Crane, and anyone working under them failed these two young men and failed them badly. I would not want to see any young person experience what Ryan or Chuck has but I do have this question for both Kevin Crane and Judge Asel. Would you allow the same thing to happen to one of your children or a child you cared about? I think not. I think if you cared about justice, you would have done your job. You did not.
Janice S. Davis

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