The Missouri Attorney General's Office filed its response Monday to Ryan Ferguson's habeas corpus petition from February.
So far, Ferguson has served five years of his 40-year sentence after being found guilty of murdering and robbing Columbia Daily Tribune Sports Editor Kent Heitholt in 2001.
Ferguson's high school friend, Charles Erickson, testified that he and Ferguson committed the murder, but Ferguson has always maintained he and his friend were never at the crime scene at all and that he is innocent.
The case has drawn national attention. A "48 Hours" episode dubbed Erickson as "the dream killer" after he explained to police that he didn't remember what he and Ferguson had done until he began to dream about it.
Since the trial, Ferguson's father, Bill, and his most recent attorney, Kathleen Zellner, have fought to free Ferguson. Their current habeas petition argues Erickson and one other key witness both recanted their trial testimonies, saying they lied.
Zellner also said the jury selection in Lincoln County from 2004 was unconstitutional because people had the option to pay a fee to get out of jury duty.
The Attorney General's Office rebutted Zellner on Monday. They argued that the jury selection didn't ultimately affect the outcome of the trial and Erickson's recantation isn't reliable.
Cole County Circuit Judge Danial Green is set to consider both arguments June 29. He could decide one of three options:
- Ferguson can be freed if the judge doesn't accept the attorney general's response and decides the jury selection was unconstitutional.
- Ferguson could be granted an evidentiary hearing.
- Ferguson could not be granted an evidentiary hearing, and he stays in prison.
Should Ryan Ferguson be granted a new evidentiary hearing?