COLUMBIA — Almost 80 forensic science students from Southern Boone High School got the chance to walk through an old — but now famous — crime scene Tuesday.
Since late September, the students have been studying the case of Ryan Ferguson, who is serving a 40-year sentence for the 2001 murder of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.
Angie Nichols, who teaches forensic science at the Ashland high school, said the class has been looking at types of forensic evidence and the ways that evidence is collected and analyzed. This semester, the class has focused on the facts of the Ferguson case.
"The best part about it is how engaged they are with the case," Nichols said.
Bill Ferguson recently spoke to a group of more than 150 Southern Boone students and, on Tuesday, gave two tours, recreating the prosecution's explanation of the events that led to Heitholt's murder.
"To truly understand the crime, people need to understand the crime scene," Ferguson said.
The tour started at the beginning, in the place where Ryan Ferguson's car was said to have been parked on the night of the murder. The tour then recreated the actions Ferguson and Chuck Erickson took as described by the prosecution. The tour led the students to the Tribune parking lot, in the direction of Locust Street, and back to where Ferguson's car had been parked.
For the students, Bill Ferguson went back and forth between the prosecution's case and his own version of what happened that night.
Along the way, he quizzed the students.
"How many times was he (Heitholt) hit?" Ferguson asked before an array of raised hands.
"Eight, nine, 10," various voices shouted back at him.
"A little higher — 11. Eleven times. What was used?" Ferguson asked.
Several students threw out more guesses: "His shirt? His belt? A bungee cord?"
Standing in the small alley between the Tribune offices and parking lot — Ferguson said the Tribune's management has banned him from giving tours on Tribune property — he tried to paint the scene for the students, alleging that there are major inconsistencies in the accounts of Erickson and two mainstays of the case, Jerry Trump and Michael Boyd.
Some students discussed the facts and various accounts of the case, and many murmured that they're sure of Ferguson's innocence.
Despite the conclusions that many of the Ashland students have come to, numerous motions and appeals from the Ferguson family have been unsuccessful. Ryan Ferguson's case will be in front of a judge again in April in connection with a habeas corpus petition filed in his name last February.
Standing quietly in the background of the second tour was Josh Kezer, whom Bill Ferguson said is now a friend of his son's. After almost 16 years in prison, Kezer was exonerated in February 2009 after a judge threw out a 1994 verdict following a habeas corpus petition.
Bill Ferguson said he believes habeas corpus is perhaps the only way people wrongly convicted can be exonerated. He said Kezer's 2009 judgement is a decision he hopes for in April.
With 11 boxes of police reports, fingerprints and interviews with witnesses, Ferguson said he thinks he knows the truth.
"I only talk about it if I have it documented," he said. "And I have practically everything documented."
By giving tours, Ferguson said he hopes to educate people and tell them what he believes really happened that night in 2001.