Ryan Ferguson files another appeal to overturn murder conviction

Friday, February 1, 2013 | 6:29 p.m. CST; updated 4:52 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 2, 2013

COLUMBIA — Ryan Ferguson filed another habeas corpus petition Wednesday — this time in the Western District Court of Appeals in Kansas City — seeking to be exonerated in the murder of Kent Heitholt.

This is Ferguson’s 14th attempt to get his conviction overturned or his case back into court. Each attempt has been unsuccessful.

The petition claims Ferguson, who is serving a 40-year sentence, is innocent of the crime. His lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, also claims Ferguson received an unfair trial due to perjury, unusual jury selection and evidence withheld from the defense.

“The prosecution used testimony it knew and/or should have known to be false and the knowing use of perjured testimony violated Ryan’s right to due process,” the petition states.

Charles "Chuck" Erickson testified that he and Ferguson beat and strangled Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt in the newspaper building's parking lot in 2001. Erickson pleaded to lesser charges and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green denied Ferguson’s most recent petition last October. Green’s ruling was released on Halloween, the 11th anniversary of the murder.

The petition filed Wednesday calls Green’s ruling “an order distinguished only by its numerous factual and legal errors.” It claims Green misapplied case law in denying the earlier habeas corpus petition.

Green’s denial came months after a lengthy hearing that took place in Jefferson City in April last year. In it, Erickson recanted his entire testimony and claimed Ferguson was innocent of the murder. A second witness also recanted. 

Erickson's testimony was the crux of the prosecution's case when Ferguson was convicted in 2005. But years later, Erickson told Zellner he now believed he and Ferguson were innocent.

Zellner claims then-Boone County Chief Prosecutor Kevin Crane manipulated and pressured Erickson into testifying. 

“Erickson told police that he didn't remember the murder and he might be confusing memories with dreams, and that he could be fabricating his and Ryan's involvement,” the petition filed this week states.

In his denial of the petition last year, Green wrote that Erickson’s recantation could not be believed because he had given so many versions of events.

“The manner in which he testified revealed a rambling, almost incoherent narrative full of inconsistencies and self-serving statements,” Green wrote. “This Court specifically finds Erickson's (recantation) to be false, not credible and untrue.”

This week's petition is being reviewed, and no hearing has been set.

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