Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane said he will wait until the preliminary hearing to decide whether or not to seek the death penalty for Ryan William Ferguson, one of the two suspects charged in the murder of former Columbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.
Ferguson, 19, and Charles Timothy Erickson, 19, were arraigned Thursday in Boone County Circuit Court by video link from the Boone County Jail, where they are being held without bail. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for March 30, when the men will have an opportunity to enter a plea.
Ferguson has been charged with first-degree murder and robbery. Erickson has been charged with second-degree murder and robbery.
Police revealed details of the investigation that led to the arrests at a press conference Thursday morning.
An anonymous call to CrimeStoppers on Jan. 21 led homicide investigators to Ferguson and Erickson. Police received a second call in the early morning hours Wednesday.
As a result, at 9 a.m. that day, Erickson was arrested on the campus of Moberly Area Community College in Columbia, where he is a student. Ferguson, who attended Columbia College in the fall of 2003, was arrested in Kansas City later that day and transported to the Columbia Police Department.
Police had pursued more than 250 leads since Heitholt’s murder on Nov. 1, 2001, said Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm, and were always confident the investigation would lead to an arrest.
“At this time we believe we have the two individuals who committed this crime,” he said.
According to the criminal complaint against the two men, Erickson said he and Ferguson had planned to commit a robbery on the night of the murder. The men, who police believe had been drinking at By George, 63 E. Broadway, took a tire tool from Ferguson’s car and went several blocks to the Columbia Daily Tribune parking lot, 101 N Fourth St., where they attacked Heitholt.
Police said Erickson told them he hit the victim over the head with the tire tool and, after Heitholt collapsed, Ferguson strangled him.
Robbery was the motive, Boehm said, although the only item stolen was the victim’s car keys, which have not been found. Boehm said police have no reason to believe the suspects targeted Heitholt for any other reason than that he was “someone in a parking lot.”
Maintenance workers discovered Heitholt’s body and alerted Rus Baer, a Tribune sports writer, and then-staff writer Bob Thompson. Baer said he was relieved that police had made arrests in the case.
“It’s good that somebody has been fingered for this crime,” said Baer, adding that he felt reassured that “they (the suspects) are not out there anymore.”
Ferguson and Erickson were classmates who graduated from Rock Bridge High School in 2003.
Evan Cameron, a former classmate, said he was shocked to learn about the murder charges because the two “seemed pretty normal.”
“I couldn’t believe it for one second,” Cameron said. “Erickson continued living his life as though nothing had happened.”
Ben Loeb, who was Ferguson’s tennis coach at Rock Bridge, said he was “shocked, stunned and saddened” by the arrests. He described Ferguson as “respectful” and a nice kid.
“It’s a real sad day for anyone who knew them,” Loeb said. “The only question I still have is: Why?”
Missourian reporters Danny Dougherty, Natalie Guillén, Graham Wood and Joel Currier contributed to this story.