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Columbia Missourian

Ferguson's father hopes billboard will lead to information about murder

By Ben Nadler
November 15, 2012 | 7:42 p.m. CST
Bill Ferguson, father of Ryan Ferguson, who was convicted in the 2001 murder of Columbia Daily Tribune editor Kent Heitholt, has bought a billboard on Interstate 70 offering a $10,000 reward for any more information about the murder.

COLUMBIA — Bill Ferguson is hoping that a new billboard, a media blitz and a $10,000 reward will lead to information that will set his son free.

On Nov. 26, a billboard paid for by Ferguson will go up on Interstate 70. It will ask anyone with information about the murder to come forward and will offer a $10,000 reward.

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Ryan Ferguson was found guilty of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in 2005 for his role in the murder of Columbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt on Nov. 1, 2001. Heitholt, 48, was found beaten, strangled and robbed in the Tribune parking lot just after 2 a.m.

Ryan Ferguson was 17 at the time of the crime.

There wasn't any physical evidence found linking Ferguson to the crime scene, and Ferguson was convicted mostly on the testimony of Jerry Trump, a former Tribune janitor, and Charles "Chuck" Erickson, who confessed to killing Heitholt with Ferguson’s help.

Both Erickson and Trump have since recanted their testimony.

Bill Ferguson's billboard will feature a composite sketch drawn from the description of Shawna Ornt, another janitor at the Tribune, who saw someone standing over Heitholt’s body minutes after the murder.

Ferguson said that this sketch is not of his son, but of another person never identified by police. He believes that this person, whom he called "the missing link," knows information that is key to the case — information that he said could set his son free. He is asking for anyone with more knowledge of the crime to come forward.    

Ferguson said he purchased a six-month contract with a local billboard company. The billboard will move every four weeks for maximum exposure and will be in three different locations on I-70, two locations on Business Loop 70 and one spot on U.S. 63 near the KOMU building.

Ferguson said he hopes the billboard, along with renewed media interest, will lead to information that can exonerate his son. Ferguson said the case would be featured on "Dateline NBC," CBS's "48 Hours" and the "Dr. Phil" show. He said he has received increased media attention since his son’s habeas corpus motion was denied by Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green on Oct. 31.

Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.