JEFFERSON CITY — Charles "Chuck" Erickson testified Wednesday that he has no memory of the night Kent Heitholt was killed and that he made false statements about his former classmate Ryan Ferguson's involvement in the 2001 killing.
Erickson, 25, said he doesn't know if he was the sole perpetrator or what his involvement in the crime was.
Ryan 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 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.
"I guess I didn't know if I'd done it because I couldn't remember that night," Erickson said.
*He also said that over the course of that night, he was under the influence of alcohol, Adderall and cocaine.
"The only time I talked about this was when I was high," Erickson added.
Erickson placed Ferguson, now 27, with him at the scene of the killing when he confessed to Columbia Police Department detectives on March 10, 2004. Erickson testified against Ferguson at his trial in 2005 — he said that it was Ferguson's idea to commit the crime and that Ferguson strangled Heitholt to death.
In exchange for his testimony, Erickson agreed to a plea bargain that reduced his sentence to 25 years for second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action.
On the stand, Erickson said information he had about the case came from what he read in the newspaper. He said he confessed because he was intimidated by police and worried that Ferguson was claiming he was involved in the crime. Erickson said that at the time, he was unsure about his involvement in Heitholt's death.
"I thought it was a done deal, that I was getting told on," Erickson said.
"I made it up. I made assumptions based on what I read," he said later in his testimony. "I made assumptions based on my best interests."
On Nov. 22, 2009, Erickson sent Ferguson a letter in prison and gave a videotaped statement to Kathleen Zellner, Ferguson's lawyer, saying that he alone committed the robbery and murder and that Ferguson was an innocent bystander. Although Erickson's 2009 statement didn't implicate Ferguson in the actual killing, Erickson still placed him at the scene.
When Zellner asked Erickson on Wednesday if he made the November 2009 statements from memory, Erickson said he hadn't.
"I thought the only way I could correct what I'd done is to take responsibility and give Ryan a chance at a fair trial," Erickson said.
He said he understood that recanting his testimony could violate his plea bargain.
"What's in my best interest was to say nothing ... but it wasn't the right thing to do," Erickson said.
Court recessed for lunch about noon and reconvened about 1 p.m. Erickson's testimony was expected to continue for most of the afternoon.