Since Kent Heitholt was murdered on Nov. 1, 2001, in what detectives described as a “sloppy crime,” Columbia police have followed hundreds of leads, coming up empty handed at each turn.
On Wednesday, police announced the arrest of Charles Timothy Erickson, 19, and Ryan William Ferguson, 19, for the murder of Heitholt, who at the time of his death was the Columbia Daily Tribune’s sports editor.
Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane charged Ferguson with first-degree murder and robbery, according to police. Erickson has been charged with second-degree murder and robbery.
The suspects were still in police custody late Wednesday and were expected to be transferred to Boone County Jail, said Columbia police Sgt. Lloyd Simon.
Heitholt’s body was found by co-workers in a parking lot behind the Tribune building in the early hours of Nov. 1, 2001. He had celebrated his fifth year at the newspaper that day.
In the following days, police conducted what they called an aggressive investigation, sweeping the area in search of a murder weapon.
At first, investigators believed Heitholt had died of severe neck and head trauma. Three months later, however, they determined that he had been strangled. Police believed robbery was the motive.
During the investigation, detectives rounded up about a dozen potential witnesses and collected more than 50 DNA samples. By early 2002, however, police said they had exhausted all leads.
Heitholt’s family was notified of the arrests Wednesday.
Ferguson and Erickson were both 17 at the time of the murder. Ferguson could face the death penalty, but Heitholt’s father, Bill, said the family would not seek it.
“We would not favor capital punishment. We are not vengeful at all. We are people of the Lord,” he said. “We just know the good Lord will mete out the justice when it’s time and I’m sure the courts will do their job.”
Do Heitholt, the victim’s mother, said Heitholt was the father of two children: Kali, a graduate of Hickman High School, and Vince, a freshman at the University of Texas in El Paso, who planning to major in criminal justice.
Erickson’s family members said they were shocked by Wednesday’s arrest.
“The arrest was completely unexpected and caught us by surprise,” said his father, Jonathan Erickson. “But we are not in a position to comment on it right now since we don’t really know the reasons behind it.”
Ferguson’s family could not be reached. However, Donna Fowler, a community service aid with the Columbia police, said Ferguson’s father had called police, asking to speak to his son.
Alonso Soto Joya, Natalie Guillén, Nadia Vitari, and Caroline Killmer contributed to this report.