COLUMBIA — Key players in the Ryan Ferguson case will meet for a public discussion at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School. The discussion comes the same day that Ferguson's attorney filed for a governor’s pardon — his 15th attempt to overturn his conviction.
"Sometimes (a pardon) can happen faster than the case can move through the court system," Ferguson’s lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, said.
Ferguson was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the 2001 murder of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt. His most recent attempt to be released — before Monday's pardon request — is being weighed by judges in the Appeals Court.
Ferguson's last petition was denied by Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green in October.
The Midwest Innocence Project is co-hosting the panel discussion with CBS’s "48 Hours" series. The Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners, recently wrote an "amicus" — friend of the court — brief to the Western District Court of Appeals expressing support for Ferguson.
"(His case) presents a lot of issues that of course are very important to the (Innocence Project)," said legal director Laura O’Sullivan, who is also participating in the discussion. "So we wanted to weigh in with the court about issues regarding the standard of review and issues of perjury and witness recantations."
Other panelists include Zellner; Charles Rogers, Ferguson’s attorney from his original trial in 2005; and "48 Hours" correspondent Erin Moriarty, who says she has been covering Ferguson’s case for more than seven years. She said the program has aired three episodes on the case, starting with Ferguson's original trial.
Moriarty said the discussion would attempt to place Ferguson's situation in the context of wrongful convictions nationwide, "a problem that exists throughout the country," she said.
O’Sullivan said representatives of the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, the Columbia Police Department and the Columbia Daily Tribune were invited but declined to attend.