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UPDATE: Emotional testimony concludes second day of Ryan Ferguson hearing

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 | 9:35 p.m. CDT; updated 8:05 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 18, 2012
At an evidentiary hearing in Jefferson City on Tuesday, forensic pathologist Larry Blum describes the injuries to Kent Heitholt that he believes were caused by a instrument different from any mentioned during Ryan Ferguson's murder trial. Blum, an expert witness for convicted murderer Ryan Ferguson, questioned the police's theory that the newspaper editor was killed during an attempted robbery.

JEFFERSON CITY — At his evidentiary hearing Tuesday, Ryan Ferguson didn't meet Jerry Trump's gaze as Trump cried while saying he falsely identified Ferguson as one of the men he saw in the Columbia Daily Tribune parking lot the night of Kent Heitholt's killing.

When Trump was asked on the stand by Ferguson's attorney, Kathleen Zellner, if there was anything he wanted in exchange for his testimony, Trump teared up again.

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"I'd like forgiveness from Ryan and his family," Trump said, looking at the Fergusons, who were seated in the gallery.

Members of the family began crying, and Ferguson looked somber when he finally made eye contact with Trump.

Ferguson was convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the 2001 strangling death of Kent Heitholt, 48, in the Columbia Daily Tribune's parking lot. Charles "Chuck" Erickson testified during the 2005 trial that he and Ferguson killed Heitholt together. The conviction began a series of appeals and a change in representation for Ferguson to Chicago-based 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.

When asked by Zellner if he understood that he could be charged with perjury, Trump said he did.

The court saw Trump's videotaped deposition Monday because Trump had planned to travel to Mexico during the original evidentiary hearing scheduled for October. Green decided to call Trump to the stand for further testimony.

During Ferguson's 2005 trial, Trump recalled the events of the night of Heitholt's murder. He said that he saw two young men behind Heitholt's car and that one of them called out that someone was hurt. When he went to investigate, Trump said, he saw the two men walking away down an alley.

On Tuesday, Trump testified he didn't see the two men holding anything that night — particularly objects resembling a tire tool or belt, which Erickson testified during the 2005 trial were the weapons he and Ferguson used to kill Heitholt. Erickson maintained that a tire tool was the weapon used when he recanted his testimony in 2009.

Trump also testified that he received a phone call from the Boone County Prosecuting Attorney's Office while serving a sentence for a sex-related offense. Trump said he knew at the time the call would be about the Heitholt killing. In his testimony, Trump detailed the conversation he had with then-Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane. Trump said Crane told him it would be "helpful" if Trump identified Ferguson and Erickson as the men he saw in the parking lot.

Before the court recessed for lunch, Trump gave a detailed account of the night of Heitholt's death. The prosecution later pressed Trump for more details about what he saw in the parking lot.

Morning testimony

The Tuesday morning testimony of forensic pathologist Larry Blum called into question the use of the tire tool as the weapon that killed Heitholt.

Blum said on the stand that the injuries a tire tool would cause don't fit the injury patterns from photographs of Heitholt's injuries. The photographs, projected onto a screen for the court, 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 the medical examiner for Boone, Callaway and Greene counties, Edward Adelstein, 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." Blum said he agrees with this statement although it could have been more specific. Blum said the injuries were consistent with defensive injuries and that Heitholt probably sustained them by trying to protect himself during the attack.

Although 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.

The hearing was scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.


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