COLUMBIA — In its ruling Tuesday vacating Ryan Ferguson's 2005 conviction for the murder of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt, the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District cites a number of people who played roles in the case.
Here are brief descriptions of those people and others who have been involved:
Michael Boyd — A former Tribune sports writer is the last known person to have seen Heitholt alive. Boyd told police he didn't see anything or anyone suspicious in the parking lot, though his statements put him at the scene a few minutes before Heitholt's slaying, if not during it, according to the appeals court ruling released Tuesday. Boyd's version of the events that night have evolved and have not been consistent throughout the proceedings. As part of the 2011 habeas claim, Ferguson's defense alleged that "a third person, Boyd, probably murdered Mr. Heitholt." This claim was later dropped so that Boyd would not refuse to testify in court. Ferguson’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner, said he should have been treated as a suspect.
Kevin Crane — Now a 13th Circuit Court judge in Boone County, Crane was chief prosecutor of the Ferguson case. He is also a Rock Bridge High School graduate, and a graduate of MU's School of Law.
Charles "Chuck" Erickson — Ferguson's friend, Chuck Erickson was partying at a local club with Ferguson the night of the murder. Erickson admitted to using cocaine, Adderall and marijuana that night. In 2004, he told friends he'd begun having dreams that he and Ferguson had murdered Heitholt. One of the two friends, Nick Gilpin, told the police what Erickson had said. After questioning by the police, Erickson confessed to the murder. He testified in Ferguson's original trial that he and Ferguson committed the murder during a robbery to get more drinking money, but later changed his testimony twice, finally saying he had no memory of the night.
Bill Ferguson — Ryan Ferguson’s father has toured the country advocating for his son's release, whose innocence he has proclaimed through the media since the day the jury returned a verdict of guilty.
Ryan Ferguson — Ferguson was convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in 2005 for the murder of Heitholt. He attended Rock Bridge High School at the time of the murder. At age 19, Ferguson was attending college in Kansas City and planned to later attend MU to study business or political science. Ferguson was sentenced to 40 years in prison in December 2005. He has been in prison for almost eight years, but Ferguson has always maintained that he had nothing to do with killing Heitholt.
Art Figueroa and Nick Gilpin — The two friends to whom Erickson reported having "dream-like" memories of the night of Heitholt's death. Gilpin reported what he heard from Erickson to the police. On March 10, 2004, police contacted Erickson about Gilpin's statements. After police questioned him, Erickson admitted to being involved in Heitholt's death. Erickson and Ferguson were then charged and arrested for involvement in the robbery and murder of Heitholt.
Melissa Griggs — The defense called Griggs as a witness to testify that the bar that Ferguson and Erickson were at on Halloween night had closed at 1:30 a.m. Griggs' testimony implied that it was not a possibility that Ferguson and Erickson went back to the bar to drink more after robbing and murdering Heitholt.
William "Bill" Haws — Haws, Crane's former investigator, testified during Ferguson's habeas proceedings. Haws was involved in the original investigation of Ferguson's case. Haws talked to both Jerry and Barbara Trump but did not file a report on his interviews with them, so Crane did not know they took place, according to the opinion. The prosecution is legally bound to disclose all interview material to defense attorneys.
Kent Heitholt — The Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor was found dead in the newspaper's parking lot on Nov. 1, 2001, after leaving the newsroom shortly after 2 a.m. The 48-year-old had worked at the Tribune for five years and was a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He had a wife and two children.
Click here to see the life story the Missourian wrote about Heitholt in 2001.
Shawna Ornt — Ornt, a Tribune janitor, discovered Heitholt in the Tribune's parking lot. She was one of two witnesses that night who claimed to have seen two white males standing by Heitholt's car. Ornt worked with sketch artists for several months after the murder to develop two composite sketches that described a muscular, blond-haired man in his early 20s. The sketches were later seen on "Free Ryan Ferguson" billboards around Columbia.
Charlie Rogers — Rogers was Ferguson's highly regarded, Kansas City-based defense attorney in the original trial. In the immediate aftermath of Ryan Ferguson's conviction in December 2005, Bill Ferguson said he would assemble a new defense team to represent his son in appeals.
Barbara Trump — The wife of Tribune janitor Jerry Trump told an investigator for the prosecutor's office that she didn't remember sending the newspaper to her husband that the state later said in Ferguson's original trial was used to identify Ferguson and Erickson. The investigator never made a report of the interview, and the prosecution failed to disclose the information to the defense. This was the Brady Rule violation that was central to the appellate court's decision Tuesday because disclosure of Barbara Trump's statement would have cast doubt on Jerry Trump's original testimony and credibility as a key state witness against Ferguson.
Jerry Trump — Trump, the other Tribune janitor who found Heitholt that night, testified at Ferguson's original trial that Ferguson was one of the white males he saw standing by Heitholt's car. But at the evidentiary hearing on April 16, 2012, Trump recanted his testimony. Trump stated that he identified Ferguson as the person who was there the night of Heitholt's murder after seeing his picture in a newspaper his wife sent him, though his wife said she did not remember sending him the paper. He said he identified the men because he thought that's what then-prosecutor, Kevin Crane, wanted him to say.
Kathleen Zellner — Ryan Ferguson's Chicago-based attorney specializes in wrongful conviction cases and has said that she took the case pro bono. She's never lost a wrongful conviction case.
A timeline of events surrounding the Ryan Ferguson case can be found here.