Ferguson evidentiary hearing to focus on recanted testimonies

Monday, April 16, 2012 | 1:04 p.m. CDT; updated 10:19 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 16, 2012
An evidentiary hearing to consider a new trial for Ryan Ferguson in the 2001 murder of Columbia Tribune sports editor Ken Heitholt began Monday. The hearing is taking place in Cole County, where Ferguson is serving his prison sentence.


This is an earlier version of an article that has been updated.

JEFFERSON CITY — After being postponed for nearly six months, testimony began Monday in Ryan Ferguson’s evidentiary hearing for a new trial after his 2005 conviction in the 2001 killing of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.

After opening statements, the court spent the bulk of the morning watching a videotaped deposition of Jerry Trump, a former janitor at the Tribune, discussing his affidavits that recanted his trial testimony. On the stand in 2005, Trump identified Ferguson and Charles “Chuck” Erickson as the men he said he saw in the Tribune parking lot the night of the murder.

Ferguson was convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the strangling death of Heitholt, 48. Erickson, a former classmate of Ferguson's, testified during the trial that he and Ferguson had killed Heitholt together.

Ferguson, appearing in court in an orange prison jumpsuit, looked to his family seated in the second row among other supporters in the full Cole County Circuit courtroom. About 50 people watched from the gallery as proceedings began.

In her opening statement, Ferguson’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner, highlighted Trump and Erickson’s recanted testimonies as the linchpins of the defense’s argument. Erickson has now claimed full responsibility for Heitholt’s killing but maintains that Ferguson was with him when it happened. Ferguson nodded along slightly as Zellner spoke.

Zellner also said they would call Michael Boyd, then a sports reporter working under Heitholt at the Tribune, to "establish a timeline" of what happened the night of Heitholt’s death.

Kimberly Bennett, who saw Ferguson and Erickson at By George, a former Columbia dance club, was expected to corroborate Ferguson’s story that he and Erickson left the club in Ferguson’s car. Further, Zellner said the court would hear a 20-page revised affidavit Erickson typed in prison.

“It’s shocking that it’s taken this long, but I think we all believe in the judicial system,” Zellner said. “We all believe that ultimately we can get to the truth.”

The state argued there is no new evidence in the Ferguson case — any discrepancies in Erickson’s testimony stem from “the realities of prison,” said Assistant Attorney General Ted Bruce. To avoid the “snitch label” that he picked up by implicating Ferguson, Erickson recanted, Bruce said.

Trump’s videotaped deposition took up the majority of the morning’s proceedings. Under questioning by Zellner and Assistant Attorney General Ted Bruce, Trump confirmed that he could not identify the two men he saw in the Tribune’s parking lot the night of Heitholt’s murder. He said he did not know whether the men in the lot were involved in Heitholt’s death.

Zellner and Bruce also asked Trump about his testimony that his wife had sent him an article with pictures of Ferguson and Erickson while he was serving time for a sex offense. In his affidavit and deposition, Trump said he didn’t see the newspaper with that article until then-Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane showed it to him.

Trump hesitated when asked if he had given false testimony during the trial. He said he identified Ferguson and Erickson as the men Trump saw in the lot because he thought it was “expected of me.” He said that he believed the conviction was a “done deal” and that his testimony could be “helpful,” though he noted in his deposition that he didn’t know if he was ever confident of Ferguson’s involvement.

“Probably in my own mind I added it to the story that they were the ones I saw,” Trump said in his deposition.

To this, Ferguson’s supporters smiled and a few patted Ferguson’s father, Bill Ferguson, on the back.

Court recessed for lunch at about noon and was scheduled to reconvene at about 1:15 p.m.

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Mike Martin April 16, 2012 | 5:58 p.m.

Not sure that all the sock puppets and spamming help the cause. Mods?

(Report Comment)
Graeme Clinton April 16, 2012 | 6:11 p.m.

Ryan Ferguson has been convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison off the back of a distorted confession by his friend who by his own admission was 'out of my mind on drugs and alcohol'. Ryan Ferguson left no physical evidence at the scene of the crime. The only two witnesses used to convict Ryan were Chuck Erickson & Jerry Trump. They have both recanted and claim they were coerced into modifying their statements in favour of the prosecution of Ferguson. This is a grave miscarriage of justice. Please sign this petition to grant Ryan Ferguson get a new trial:

(Report Comment)
Joy Mayer April 16, 2012 | 9:22 p.m.

@Mike, we're keeping an eye. Thanks.

Joy Mayer,
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)

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