JEFFERSON CITY — The Tuesday morning testimony of forensic pathologist Larry Blum called into question the use of a tire tool in the beating death of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt as witness testimony in the Ryan Ferguson evidentiary hearing continued.
Charles "Chuck" Erickson, a former classmate of Ferguson's, testified during the 2005 trial that he beat Heitholt with a tire tool. He maintained that a tire tool was the weapon used when he recanted his testimony in 2009.
Ferguson was convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the 2001 strangling death of Heitholt, 48, in the newspaper’s parking lot. Erickson testified during the 2005 trial that he and Ferguson had killed Heitholt together. The conviction began a series of appeals and a change in representation for Ferguson to Chicago-based attorney Kathleen Zellner.
Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green will determine at the end of the weeklong evidentiary hearing whether Ferguson will be granted a new trial. The hearing was rescheduled in October — at that time, Zellner asked for three days to present the defense’s evidence, and the state requested two days for its argument.
Blum testified Tuesday that the injuries a tire tool would cause don't fit the injury patterns from photographs of Heitholt's injuries. The photographs showed line-like lacerations on Heitholt's skull, circular markings on his skull and hands and what appeared to be "dual markings" on his hands, Blum said.
The dual markings were injuries that left two marks a similar distance to each other on Heitholt's hands. Blum said these markings were most likely caused by a two-pronged instrument.
It was unlikely that an object with one tip could create the same pattern of injuries, Blum said.
"That would be most incredible," he said. "It would defy all the odds ... We would be denying reality for the sake of objectivity."
Blum said the circular markings found on Heitholt's skull and hands were called "cookie cutter" marks because there were cuts around the edges of the circle, but the skin inside that circle was unharmed.
For a tire tool to have caused injuries of that size and shape, Blum said, the car for which it was designed would have been a "kiddie car."
Blum also testified that a tool like a nail puller has all the components to produce the three injuries found on Heitholt: two prongs, a long stem with sharp edges and a round tip.
Blum said Heitholt's original autopsy report, prepared by Edward Adelstein, the medical examiner for Boone, Callaway and Greene counties, does not meet the standards of a forensic pathology report. Heitholt's injuries were described in general terms, he said.
"Overall, I stated that it was a good report, but it was not up to forensic standards," Blum said. "It lacks some of the things we like to see as forensic pathologists."
As an example, Blum called into question the report's discussion of the injuries to Heitholt's hands, which were described as "abrasions and bruises." While Blum said he agrees with this statement, it could have been more specific. Blum said that the injuries were consistent with defensive injuries and that Heitholt probably sustained them by trying to protect himself during the attack.
While Blum said he agrees the cause of Heitholt's death was strangulation, he also said he believes the hyoid bone, which sits high in the neck, was not fractured by strangulation with a belt.
Further, though there was a mark on the side of Heitholt's neck from the the belt, a fracture of the hyoid bone by strangulation with a belt would be unlikely, Blum said. He said he believes the fracture was caused by a direct blow to the neck.
Court recessed for lunch around noon.