COLUMBIA – Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster asked the Western District Court of Appeals on Tuesday to deny Ryan Ferguson’s latest habeas corpus petition.
The court will either deny the petition, grant it or ask for additional briefs, clerk of court Terence Lord said. He said he expected the judges’ order to be delivered quickly.
Koster argued that Ferguson was not entitled to a new hearing because he has not presented any new allegations or evidence since his last petition in another court.
“(Ferguson) has already been found guilty in a trial that has been found to be fair not once, not twice, but six times,” Koster wrote.
Ferguson was sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt in the newspaper building's parking lot in 2001. Charles "Chuck" Erickson testified that he and Ferguson beat and strangled Heitholt, then pleaded guilty to lesser charges. He is serving 25 years in prison.
This latest petition, filed Jan. 30, is Ferguson's 14th attempt to get his conviction overturned or his case back into court. Last year, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green denied Ferguson’s habeas corpus petition. So his Chicago-based attorney, Kathleen Zellner, filed a new one in a higher court.
In his 60-page response to the new petition, Koster wrote that Zellner's action was not correct under Missouri law.
“A second hearing to litigate claims that have already been proven to be untrue is unjustified and a waste of judicial resources,” Koster said.
Koster argued that much of the new evidence presented last year to Green, which included recantations by Erickson and Jerry Trump, who identified Ferguson and Erickson as the two young men he saw in the newspaper parking lot around the time of Heitholt's slaying, was not credible. Koster did not address Zellner’s claims that then-Boone County prosecutor Kevin Crane withheld evidence and manipulated witnesses.
Bill Ferguson, Ryan Ferguson’s father, said the state has been inconsistent in its responses to his son’s case and noted that there is new evidence in the case, despite the state's claims to the contrary.
“It seems like the main thing (Koster) is saying is that it’s a waste of the court’s time,” Ferguson said.
In the petition, Zellner says Ferguson received an unfair trial because of perjury, unusual jury selection and misconduct by Crane, who is now a 13th Circuit Court judge.