COLUMBIA — Ryan Ferguson’s attorneys will be back in court in September, arguing his case before three judges at the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals.
The panel of judges will then decide whether to grant Ferguson’s petition for freedom, Clerk of Court Terence Lord said.
Ferguson is serving 40 years in prison for murdering Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt in the Tribune parking lot in 2001. Since then he’s filed more than a dozen attempts to overturn his conviction and has always maintained his innocence.
His attorney Kathleen Zellner said this development was “very good” for his case.
“They are taking the case seriously enough that they want to have an oral argument,” she said. “Typically with a habeas action it would … just be passed on to the Missouri Supreme Court. It’s excellent that they’re not.”
Attorney General Chris Koster’s office declined to comment. In court documents, Koster said Zellner coerced witnesses, lacked new evidence and followed incorrect legal procedure.
In April, the Court of Appeals ordered Koster to file a fuller argument for why Ferguson should be kept in prison.
Ferguson’s father Bill Ferguson said that sent a “strong message” that the state’s argument was faulty.
“Now we’re getting an oral argument,” he said.
The state’s two eyewitnesses, Jerry Trump and Charles Erickson, recanted last year during a hearing in Jefferson City. But that hearing didn’t win freedom for Ferguson because Cole County judge Daniel Green denied his petition later that year. Ferguson still has a request pending in the governor’s office for a pardon.
Oral argument will take place Sept. 10. Zellner said Ferguson would not be present.
Supervising editor is Katie Moritz.