Erickson testifies he has no memory of Heitholt killing

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 | 1:59 p.m. CDT; updated 6:50 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 18, 2012

*A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the substances Charles Erickson was under the influence of on the night of Kent Heitholt's murder.

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.

The history

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.

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mike brown April 18, 2012 | 2:37 p.m.

This case is so heartbreaking. clearly the police were totally incompetent feeding erickson facts about the crime, correcting his "confession" and even giving a tour of the crime scene. the prosecutor crane was not incompetent but evil. crane should be in prison, and the cops flipping burgers. the first judge was a baffoon for allowing the farce to continue and the jury, well lets just say they eat paste for dessert. Missouri you should be ashamed of yourself. erickson went from not knowing how the victim died, to being told "strangled" and so he added strangled..then was asked with what? and he clearly guesses a shirt, cop said no...he then said bungee cord? cop said could it have been a belt? and erickson said Really? so we go from really? to erickson standing up in court pointing his finger and yelling we are here because of what that man did? really? he was pointing at ferguson, but he should have been pointing at Crane...we are here because of what the cops, crane, a lousy judge allowed to happen..ryan has lost years of his life...and nobody in the government of missouri is in any hurry to end this tragedy...we should have never admitted you bumkins into the union. should have given half of you to kansas and the other half to IL. shame on all of you.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 18, 2012 | 2:49 p.m.

I don't see how this testimony, if presented accurately in this article, helps anyone at all.

Except those who suspect "gaming" the system. They'll like it.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle April 18, 2012 | 4:14 p.m.

Everything about the trials and convictions of Ericson and Ferguson is an example of "gaming the system." And Kevin Crane was the game master.

If things were even the slightest bit fair, it would be Crane, who sits and collects taxpayer money, that would be getting drug tested every month before he collects his paycheck. If things were really truly fair, it would be Crane who would be rotting in jail for unjustly ruining other people's lives.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 18, 2012 | 5:07 p.m.

Derrick: I can only respond to Erickson's testimony as described by the reporter.

Once I finished the article, my initial and continuing reaction was, "Somebody with the initials CE sees a future get-out-of-jail-free-card...given the happenstance and raison d'etre of this particular legal denying a memory of anything. For the first time. That's a great motive for changing testimony.....deny, deny, deny and claim a drug-induced foggy brain. He may have received some really, really good (and timely) legal advice.

I'm confident the judge has already thought of these things.

Opportunity is knocking........

And that is why I don't think his testimony helped anyone even a little bit. Indeed, it could have been a huge mistake for Ferguson.

We'll see.

(Report Comment)
mike brown April 18, 2012 | 5:20 p.m.

i worry about people like you. he never had the memory. did you ever see his police interview/confession? he did not know anything about the murder..nothing..until the police let him read police reports, coached him when he got it wrong and gave him a private tour of the crime scene. he wasn't even close on any of the facts until hours of help from the cops. cops keep back facts to keep the crazy confessors or false witnesses from messing up an investigation. when erickson got all the facts wrong, the interview should have don't tell him about the let him tell you..barney fife probably knew that. anyone who watched that interview and watched the evolution of erickson's confession would know it made no sense..not to mention the fact that both erickson and ryan are under 5'8" and back then under 150lbs..and the victim i think was near 6'3" and well over 250 lbs. why attack him? mr byrd is a little shorter and a little lighter..supposedly they watched mr byrd walk to his car, erickson btw identified byrd as white just like the error in the police report, why did they not immediately attack mr byrd? why did they wait for a victim they would have no idea even would be coming out...remember erickson said they went out to rob someone for beer money to return to a closed bar...why not rob the slightly smaller byrd? and why did the police ignore the rest of ericksons story about running into people he never did and returning to a bar long closed after the murder? see michael i worry about people like probably were on that jury.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 18, 2012 | 5:45 p.m.

MikeB: Take a're turnin' blue.

I clearly see a scenario where CE's testimony didn't help things one bit.

Depends on what the judge thinks, tho. We'll see.

PS: No, I wasn't on the jury and I don't think you were either....if there is a requirement for knowing when to use capital letters to start a sentence. Did you like the Missourian article on National Merit Scholar finalists? Bet you weren't there, either.

(Report Comment)
mike brown April 18, 2012 | 5:49 p.m.

michael you can pretend to be an intellectual by correcting people's typing on blogs, but you have no response to my points, because you are poorly informed on this case. I have no intention of taking a breath when such and injustice has been done. you should be embarrassed for your state not to mention your own poor ability to understand simple facts. my guess a missouri grad. please take a pencil and capitalize my letters as you seem that is more important than justice. i guess when it comes to critical thinking, missouri jury pools are out of luck.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 18, 2012 | 5:57 p.m.

MikeB instructs: "please take a pencil and capitalize my letters"

Well, a pencil won't write on my monitor, and white-out is out of the question.

Thanks for worrying about me, tho. I'm embarrassed because I don't worry about you at all.

(Report Comment)
mike brown April 18, 2012 | 6:00 p.m.

michael it's too bad you don't worry about ryan and justice. but i guess that too much to ask.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 18, 2012 | 6:05 p.m.

MikeB: I said no such thing. Read what I wrote.

I said...and I quote..."I don't see how this testimony, if presented accurately in this article, helps anyone at all."

And then I said it again....right after I discussed CE.

And, may not ask me to be an evangelical. I don't like evangelicals. They're too.....evangelical. And, in this case, too juvenile.

(Report Comment)
mike brown April 18, 2012 | 6:32 p.m.

who said evangelical? be a patriot who supports the constitution. crane is a criminal, the police incompetent at best, what missouri continues to do is inexcusiable. and you worry about capital letters and such. but remember you need to start with knowledge and logic...and we know you are too worried that i did not capitalize the letter "i" and were is that darn period

(Report Comment)
mike brown April 18, 2012 | 6:32 p.m.

sorry it's

(Report Comment)
mike brown April 18, 2012 | 6:35 p.m.

and one other thing, juvenile???? oh let's all be adult and let this innocent man spend the next 40 years in prison..we wouldn't want to be called a bunch of kids by michael, now would we? michael do some research on this case and if you are not as angry as i am, well then why bother blogging at all?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 18, 2012 | 6:55 p.m.

I think Erickson's testimony today is going to be a problem.

I don't think he helped Ferguson at all.

I think he has a great motive for lying; a get-out-of-jail-free-card. An effort that will surely follow.

And I don't think the judge is asleep.

You may not like to hear these statements, and you may think that a negative impression about CE's testimony automatically extrapolates to a negative impression about Ferguson.

But, you'd be wrong.

That's what evangelicals do.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 18, 2012 | 7:06 p.m.

As a minor example, take this bit of testimony:

"The only time I talked about this was when I was high," Erickson added.

In vino, veritas.

That saying has been around for a loooonnnng time...for some really good reasons.

That statement didn't help one bit.

(Report Comment)
mike brown April 18, 2012 | 7:23 p.m.

what did he talk about though? he said he mentioned to ryan that its weird a man was murdered the night we were out? he also said he never thought he did it until two years later he started thinking maybe he did have something to do with it. but do you know how many crazies confess to highly publicized cases? these cops could have convinced this confused kid he kidnapped the lindberg baby. he did not have the facts. thats where it should have stopped.

think of this one fact. he was told the victim was strangled...he did not know how. the cops asked if ryan used something. he guessed a shirt...cops said no. he guessed bungee cord...good guess, but still wrong...did the cops stop...nope..they suggested could it have been his belt? what did erickson say? did he say..yeah that its? nope..he said in a suprised question, "really?". he also said several times he was not sure he really was there...but the police pursisted. by trial over a year later and many hours of coaching..erickson told the jury, ryan took the man's belt and strangled a surprised "really?" to certainty...and that does not bother you? and why did anyone not ask how they got the belt off a 300 lb man? quite a feat...i do have a theory on that, but it would take more than a 140 lb 17 yo boy attacking from behind with a tire iron..oh wait we didn't say iron we said tool.. and erickson also said they stole his wallet...but the wallet was found in the car...hmm...yeah erickson couldn't even get a coached story right. i could go on all night...but its not worth it until you find out these facts for yourself.

(Report Comment)
audrey pyle April 19, 2012 | 10:26 a.m.

There is a guy's life at stake here! He was given this current trial/hearing because he deserves it. If the justice system worked, there wouldn't be so many wrongly convicted people in prison. Please just remember that there is a person behind all your gossip!!

(Report Comment)
mike mentor April 19, 2012 | 11:41 a.m.

I am thinking that no matter what CE says he stays in jail because he plead guilty. You don't get a do-over if you plead guilty. So, I don't think CE has a chance to get out even of he claims he doesn't remember anything. Now, having said that, he should be able to get some relief from his situation. Clearly his confession is coerced and spoon fed. I don't know anyone who has seen it and thinks otherwise. Crane belongs on the other side of the bench, no doubt!
I do not blame the jury at all. They heard a boy with mental illness and a drug problem tell a story. Then they heard from two witness's that lied to get a better deal from Crane and Crane illegally put them on knowing they were going to lie. Then, they did not hear about a third witness that Crane illegally held from the defense that said CE and RF were not the ones in the parking lot. They also did not hear from Kim Bennett who told police that she saw CE and RF at a time that would have conflicted with the po po's timeline and she was also illegally witheld from the defense by Crane.

All this and we haven't got to the physical evidence. These two boys, hyped up on drugs, killed this guy in what detectives called, "One of the bloodiest murder cases they have seen" and didn't get a drop of blood on them or the car they were riding around in? Puhleeeeze... They did luminol testing on the car and sent the tire tool to the FBI lab at Langley and nothing... The hair that was found in the victims hand did not match either CE or RF or KH. They had physical evidence in the way of DNA, fingerprints, bloody footprints, and the aformentioned hair in the victims hand and none of this connected either kid to the crime. Then, just for good measure, Crane illegally lied again during closing arguments.

This was a travesty and Crane belongs in jail or at least at home with some ankle jewelry!

(Report Comment)

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