Ryan Ferguson loses bid for new trial; defense vows to continue

Tuesday, August 31, 2010 | 5:29 p.m. CDT; updated 9:11 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 31, 2010

COLUMBIA — Ryan Ferguson, convicted in the 2001 murder of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt, faces another hurdle in his quest for exoneration. Tuesday, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District denied Ferguson's latest appeal to have his case sent back to the 13th Circuit Court for Boone County so he can ask for a new trial.

But the three-member appeals court, in an opinion written by Judge Gary D. Witt, also said it is troubled by the case.

"That is not to say the issues of this case do not give us pause," said the court, citing the fact that the only evidence against Ferguson was the testimony of his co-defendant, Charles Erickson, and an identification by Tribune janitor Jerry Trump.

Erickson, who is serving 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and agreeing to testify against Ferguson, has changed his account of the crime since the trial. He said in a videotaped statement in November 2009 that he alone killed Heitholt, but he continued to assert that Ferguson was present at the crime scene, which was a parking lot on the north side of the Tribune building.

Ferguson has maintained from the beginning that he was not there.

Ferguson's lawyer, Kathleen Zellner of Chicago, said Tuesday that she now will file a habeas corpus petition in Cole County Circuit Court to ask for a new trial. She said she is confident that request will be granted.

The court said Ferguson's defense team failed to demonstrate that his original trial lawyer was ineffective and that Ferguson filed his motion to remand the case to circuit court too late.

"We must reject Ferguson's Remand Motion because Missouri law is clear that he is not entitled to file another motion for a new trial at this time," Witt wrote.

Zellner said that procedural ruling isn't a big blow.

"Basically, all the court has said is that this isn't the forum to try. I'm still very optimistic," Zellner said. "You need Erickson to recant (in court). Now that we have that, a conviction like that is not going to stand."  

Zellner said she will file the petition within 30 days.

Ferguson's father, Bill Ferguson, echoed Zellner's optimism.

"From our perspective, this is the best thing that could have happened."

Ferguson and Zellner both said the delays inherent in the appeals process have allowed them to develop new evidence. Zellner would not reveal that evidence but said it serves to exonerate Ryan Ferguson.

In its ruling, the court said Ferguson's options are not over.

"Ferguson is not without recourse to have this newly-discovered evidence heard in a Missouri court of law," the opinion states. "Habeas corpus relief is available."

Bill Ferguson said his son is taking the delay in stride. Ryan Ferguson was sentenced to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder and armed criminal action after his convictions in 2005.

"He's so used to it. He knows he's innocent. We all know he's innocent," Bill Ferguson said. "He always knew there would be delays, but now we're beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel."

Heitholt was beaten and strangled to death in the parking lot of the Columbia Daily Tribune early on the morning of Nov. 1, 2001. Police for years had no strong leads and no suspects, until Erickson confided to a friend that he "may have" committed the crime.

That friend contacted police, who then arrested Erickson and Ferguson. Ferguson was convicted largely on the confession of Erickson, which Ferguson has always maintained was fabricated.

Ferguson's defense team is also questioning the veracity of an eyewitness identification by Trump, the Tribune janitor. Bill Ferguson said Trump was encouraged to make the identification by then-Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane. The appeals court rejected that claim.

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Bill Ferguson August 31, 2010 | 7:27 p.m.

Thank you for using a fair-minded photograph of Ryan Ferguson.

(Report Comment)
Bill Ferguson September 1, 2010 | 12:31 p.m.

Well folks here is a new development in Ryan's case.

Just hit the paper this morning and the Eastern Court of Appeals yesterday.
Below is the link to their finding.

You may remember we appealed Ryan verdict base on the fact of Jury Misconduct ie the judge from Lincoln County allowing jury members to exit jury duty by paying $50. We knew this was wrong.
There are 3,140 counties in the US and only one Lincole County used this procedure which now everyone agrees is illegal. What to the Judge? Nothing.
What to Ryan? His appeal was denied.

We were were denied our appeal in a Habeas Hearing in Cole County in 2009.

Now the Eastern Appeals Court have ruled that what were saying was correct.

The court system is very odd.

We were denied in Cole County but the Eastern Appeals Court yesterday are now saying are issue was correct.

We are the ones who first discovered this illegal procedure and brought it to the light of day.

We were told we were correct but we filed to late.

We filed within 5 days of discovery.

Now look what the Eastern Court of Appeals are saying.
Really makes one question our court system......

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez September 1, 2010 | 12:45 p.m.

Keep up the fight Mr Ferguson a lot are praying for your family's strength.

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez September 1, 2010 | 12:46 p.m.

Links not working.

(Report Comment)
Bill Ferguson September 1, 2010 | 2:05 p.m.

Sorry I do not know how to get link onto one line..when it breaks it fails.

If you go the the Missouri Eastern Appeals Court Home page and look under the tab Opinions look under August 31 and Donald Preston you will be able to view and or down load the Court's Opinion.
For the information in the paper
St Louis Post Dispatch Home Page for todays story.

Sorry hope these links work better for you.

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez September 1, 2010 | 2:35 p.m.

Thank you Mr Ferguson.

(Report Comment)
Shelly Walde December 19, 2010 | 2:29 a.m.

When will the system finally do right by Ryan Ferguson? It's high time they stop turning a blind eye to the fact that they pinned this crime on an innocent man.

(Report Comment)
Robert Kimsey December 19, 2010 | 11:50 a.m.

Like most of us in the public, I don't know whether Ryan is innocent or guilty. But in our system we're not supposed to put someone away like this unless they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There is more than reasonable doubt in this case. He should be released.

(Report Comment)
thomas luin March 20, 2011 | 11:03 p.m.

God bless Bill Ferguson

(Report Comment)
Bret Martel May 5, 2011 | 6:39 p.m.

**Bill Ferguson**.... way too blown away right now to really give a detailed response....I just tonight (4/5/11) saw the orignal episode and im taking in everything reported since...I will say I am currently in awe....I feel for your whole family. I would very much like to get as much information as there is available. Id like to see everything that I could because I think I have some theories that might help produce more evidence that ryan is innocent. There has got to be atleast half a dozen ways to prove him innocent if all there is to the story is what I have seen thusfar. I invite you to email me @ even if it is just to keep me up to date on whats recent. You have one more person pulling for Ryan and your family.

(Report Comment)

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