The two suspects charged with the murder of former Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt pleaded not guilty in court on Monday. Both suspects declined formal arraignment where bond may have been reviewed.
Ryan Ferguson, 19, was indicted by a grand jury on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery Friday. He was originally scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing, but Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane chose to present the case to a grand jury instead.
Charles Erickson, 19, waived his right to a preliminary hearing before Monday’s arraignment. He has been charged with second-degree murder and first-degree robbery. Both suspects were 17 at the time of the slaying.
Crane said neither suspect was plea bargaining for reduced sentences.
“But you never know what’s around the corner,” he said.
Trials for both defendants were to be scheduled late Monday afternoon, but Crane said he did not expect a final trial date to be set at the first meeting because of the severity of the charges.
Local lawyer Dan Viets said it is common for a trial of this type to last up to a week once it has begun.
Following the arraignment, Crane provided Ferguson’s lawyer, Scott McBride, with information on what evidence and witnesses he plans to use in court. McBride declined to comment on that evidence. Mark Kempton, Erickson’s lawyer, had received similar information on April 23 when Erickson declined a preliminary hearing.
McBride said Ferguson and his family are holding up well since the indictment.
“They have a lot of support from the community,” he said.
Crane has not decided whether he will seek the death penalty for Ferguson.
That decision, he said, is “really not an issue” until the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a decision by the Missouri Supreme Court prohibiting the execution of someone who was a minor at the time of a crime.
Officials at the Boone County Jail said Ferguson and Erickson are being held in separate parts of the jail and are not able to communicate with each other.
Heitholt was found dead in the Tribune parking lot by co-workers in the early morning hours of Nov. 1, 2001. Ferguson and Erickson were arrested on March 10 after police received an anonymous tip from the CrimeStoppers phone line.
Police reports said Erickson implicated both himself and Ferguson after he had been arrested.
Police have not located a weapon used in the killing, but a search of Ferguson’s Mercedes-Benz in March uncovered trace evidence, according to police records.