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UPDATED TIMELINE: The evolution of the Ryan Ferguson case

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 | 2:08 p.m. CST; updated 5:03 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 11, 2014

*UPDATE: This story has been revised to correct the description of the court's action. The court vacated Ferguson's convictions.

COLUMBIA — The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District vacated Ryan Ferguson's 2005 conviction for second-degree murder. Below is a timeline highlighting the important events related to the case since Kent Heitholt's death in 2001.

Nov. 1, 2001: Kent Heitholt, a sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune, is found dead in the newspaper’s parking lot just after 2 a.m.

Jan. 21, 2004: A tipster calls the police, claiming that Chuck Erickson and Ryan Ferguson are possible suspects in the murder of Heitholt.

March 10, 2004: Police receive a call reporting that Erickson was talking about the homicide.

March 11, 2004: Erickson tells the Columbia Police Department he was involved in the murder and robbery of Heitholt two years earlier. He is charged and arrested. Ferguson is charged and arrested but denies any involvement in the murder or robbery.

Nov. 4, 2004: Erickson plea bargains for 25 years in prison, and pleads guilty to second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action in exchange for giving truthful testimony against Ferguson.

Dec. 5, 2005: Ferguson is found guilty of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery. He is sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Feb. 17, 2006: CBS "48 Hours Mystery" episode covers the murder trial of Ferguson, called "Dream Killer."

Nov. 1, 2006: Public Defender Ellen Flottman presents an appeal for Ferguson to the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals because a K-9 unit was not allowed to testify at the original trial.

June 26, 2007: Ferguson’s appeal is denied and the conviction upheld.

Aug. 21, 2007: The Missouri Supreme Court refuses to hear Ferguson’s appeal.

Nov. 14, 2007: Ferguson files a pro se, or Rule 29.15 motion, on his own behalf, claiming his sentence violates the Constitution.

March 3, 2008: Ferguson amends Rule 29.15 motion.

July 16 to 18, 2008: Evidentiary hearings are held for Ferguson’s claim that he had inadequate counsel and should receive a retrial because the original confession was invalid.

Aug. 13, 2008: Ferguson files habeas corpus appeal and cites denial of due process, equal protection under the law and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment due to the Lincoln County jury selection process.

Sept. 2, 2008: Motion court transfers the habeas motion to the Cole County Circuit Court. The petition is denied by the court.

Dec. 15, 2008: Cole County court holds evidentiary hearing about Ferguson's habeas corpus appeal. Ferguson's public defender, Valerie Leftwich, argues that Lincoln County's policy of juror duty opt-out denied Ferguson a random cross-section of the population.

Jan. 9, 2009: Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan rejects Ferguson's habeas corpus appeal that the jury selection process resulted in an unfair trial.

March 31, 2009: Missouri Western District Court of Appeals rejects the same appeal.

May 5, 2009: Missouri Supreme Court declines to hear the appeal regarding jury selection.

June 15, 2009: Boone County Circuit Judge Jodie Asel denies Ferguson's appeal of his 2005 murder conviction. She rejects that Ferguson’s original legal team was ineffective and that Boone County Circuit Judge Kevin Crane withheld evidence when prosecuting the case in 2005.

November 2009: Chicago-based attorney Kathleen Zellner begins representing Ferguson.

Nov. 9, 2009: Erickson sends letter to Ferguson asking to see Ferguson’s lawyers.

Nov. 22, 2009: Erickson tapes a sworn statement that he alone committed the robbery and murder, claiming that Ferguson was an innocent bystander. He still places Ferguson at the scene of the crime. The videotape is given to Zellner. Six months later, Zellner begins representing Erickson in addition to Ferguson.

February 2010: Zellner files a motion to return the case to a local circuit court in Boone County. The state files an opposition to the motion.

June 18, 2010: Assistant Attorney General Shaun Mackelprang files a response with the Western District Court of Appeals against Ferguson’s appeal for a new trial.

October 2010: Jerry Trump, a janitor at the Columbia Tribune, gives affidavit that says he lied during the trial. He said in his initial testimony he saw two men over Heitholt the night of his death. Then while serving a prison sentence he received a newspaper with photos of Ferguson and Erickson and determined they were the individuals he saw over Heitholt. In the revised testimony he said he did not see photos of Ferguson or Erickson until prosecuting attorney Kevin Crane showed him photos during a meeting in December 2004.

Nov. 2, 2010: Motion for Supreme Court rehearing and transfer denied.

Feb. 14, 2011: Ferguson files writ of habeas corpus petition that includes the recantations of Erickson and Trump, eyewitnesses in the case.

March 26, 2011: CBS "48 Hours Mystery" airs update to 2006 show that covered the Heitholt murder. The update covers new evidence that supports Ferguson’s innocence, including Erickson's recantation.

May 2, 2011: Assistant Attorney General Stephen Hawke files a response to Ferguson’s habeas corpus petition. He says recantations do not nullify previous testimonies.

May 28, 2011: Zellner files a motion to no longer represent Erickson. The motion is filed to prevent a future conflict of interest because of possibility that Ferguson might be granted a new evidentiary hearing.

July 22, 2011: Judge Daniel Green, of Cole County Circuit Court, dismisses Ferguson’s claims that his trial was unfair due to the jury selection process. The jury selection system in Lincoln County at the time allowed potential jurors to opt out of jury duty by paying a fine of $50 and completing six hours community service.

Aug. 5, 2011: Dateline NBC “Mystery on Halloween Night” airs about the case.

September 2011: Ferguson’s original evidentiary hearing set to take place in October is rescheduled for April 16, 2012.

April 16, 2012: Ferguson’s evidentiary hearing begins.  Erickson testifies that he has no memory of the night of the Heitholt killing. Jerry Trump, a former Columbia Daily Tribune janitor, recants his testimony, saying he misidentified Ferguson as one of the men he saw in the newspaper's parking lot the night of the killing. Ferguson doesn't testify at the hearing.

June 15, 2012: Briefs are filed in Cole County Circuit Court addressing both sides of the Ferguson murder case.

Aug. 17, 2012: Bill Ferguson, Ryan Ferguson's father, leads a tour of the crime scene in an attempt to raise awareness of discrepancies in the case.

Oct. 31, 2012: Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel R. Green denies Ferguson's petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

Jan. 30, 2013: Ryan Ferguson files a habeas corpus petition in the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals, arguing he is purely innocent of the crime. This is Ferguson's 14th attempt to overturn his 2005 murder conviction. Read the petition.

March 6, 2013: Attorney General Chris Koster asks the court to deny Ferguson's petition, saying it is incorrect legal procedure. Read Koster's response.

March 22, 2013: Zellner responds to allegations Koster wrote in his response. Lawyers with the Midwest Innocence Project add their input to the debate as well, arguing Zellner did in fact follow the correct legal procedure. Read Zellner's reply.

April 30, 2013: The court rejects Koster's argument and orders him to file a new response. Koster requests extra time to form his response, but in the end, merely refers back to his first one. Read the judicial order.

Sept. 10, 2013: Ryan Ferguson’s case goes to the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals. His appeal was focused on information withheld during his trial.

Nov. 5, 2013: Ryan Ferguson’s conviction is vacated.

Nov. 12, 2013: Ryan Ferguson is released.

March 10, 2014: Ryan Ferguson's attorneys file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Western District of Missouri alleging that Ferguson's civil rights were violated by city officials, including investigators and prosecutors. The lawsuit seeks $100 million in damages.

Nate Anton contributed to this report.


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