The Missouri Western District Court of Appeals today unanimously upheld the conviction of Ryan Ferguson for the November 2001 slaying of Columbia Tribune Sports Editor Kent Heitholt.
Ferguson and co-defendant Charles Erickson are serving sentences of 40 and 25 years, respectively, for Heitholt’s murder and first-degree robbery.
Ferguson’s lawyer in his appeal, Public Defender Ellen Flotman, said she was surprised the court declined to issue a formal opinion stating the reasons for its decision. The order cited a Missouri Supreme Court rule that allows an appellate court to uphold a lower court decision without comment when the members of the court are in unanimous agreement and do not feel that jurisprudence would be served by issuing a formal opinion. She said the court will eventually send her a memorandum explaining the reasons for its decision, but that memorandum will not be published and will not establish any precedent.
Bill Heitholt, Kent’s father, said his family was pleased to learn that the conviction had been upheld. But he said the family had closure a long time ago.
“We grieve our loss every day, but we look at the positive part we had for 48 years,” Heitholt said. “We are not vindictive, we’re forgiving people. It’s easier for us to lose our 48-year-old son than to be the parents of the boys that perpetrated such an act.”
In the early morning of Nov.1, 2001, Heitholt was found beaten and strangled in the Tribune parking lot. In March 2004, Erickson and Ferguson were arrested after Columbia police received an anonymous tip that the two were involved in the slaying.
Erickson testified that he beat Heitholt with a tire tool and that Ferguson strangled Heitholt with his belt. During his trial, Ferguson asserted his innocence. A handwritten note in which he claims to have had no involvement in the murder is posted on the Web site created by his family, freeryanferguson.com.
The site contains links to videos on YouTube.com that show what Ferguson’s family has called coercive interrogation tactics in police interviews with Ferguson and Erickson.
Bill Ferguson, Ryan’s father, said Tuesday that he was not surprised by the court’s decision.
“They can only look at the mistakes the judges have made in the past,” he said. “We’ve started our own investigation and have new evidence but couldn’t get it admitted in court.”
He said the family would consult with their attorneys and decide on a next step.
Boone County Circuit Judge Kevin Crane, who prosecuted the case when he was Boone County’s chief prosecutor, could not be reached for comment.