Ryan Ferguson's lawyers respond to attorney general

Friday, March 22, 2013 | 8:40 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – Ryan Ferguson’s attorneys filed a statement rebutting the state’s request for a denial of their habeas petition on Friday. Judges will take this statement into account when deciding to deny Ferguson’s petition, accept it, or ask the lawyers for more information.

Terry Lord, clerk of court for the Western District Court of Appeals, said he expected the judges to decide soon whether they will accept or deny Ferguson’s petition.

In her statement, Ferguson’s attorney Kathleen Zellner said Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster applied the wrong legal standards to Ferguson’s case.

“We think there are a number of errors in the state’s response," Zellner said in an interview. “They’re misapplying Missouri habeas law."

The Attorney General’s office declined to comment. But in a statement filed March 6, Koster argued that Ferguson was required to present new evidence to the court in order to obtain a new hearing. 

“A second hearing to litigate claims that have already been proven to be untrue is unjustified and a waste of judicial resources,” Koster wrote.

The evidence in question was the subject of a hearing in Jefferson City last year. A judge denied Ferguson’s petition, so Zellner is now seeking relief from a higher court.

“What possible expenditure of judicial resources could be more justifiable than rectifying a wrongful conviction?” she wrote in her reply to Koster's statement.

The court limited Zellner's statement to 25 pages. She filed a 154-page petition in January, and the state’s response numbered 62. The statement filed today was the latest in Zellner’s attempts to get Ferguson either released from prison or back in court for a new trial.

One cornerstone of her argument is that the only two witnesses to tie Ferguson to the crime recanted. Koster pointed out that a judge heard those recantations last year and dismissed them as not credible. 

“(Koster) chooses to ‘slay the messenger’ by blaming (Ferguson’s) attorneys for the recantations,” Zellner wrote. She claims he misconstrued the nature of the lawyers' relationships with the witnesses.

Ferguson is serving 40 years in prison for the murder of sports editor Kent Heitholt in the Columbia Daily Tribune’s parking lot in 2001.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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