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State's highest court won't hear Ferguson appeal

He is expected to ask for a secondary review on the grounds of ineffective counsel
Tuesday, August 21, 2007 | 4:39 p.m. CDT; updated 11:29 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Ryan Ferguson's appeal for a new trial in the killing of Kent Heitholt, a Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor, was denied by the Missouri State Supreme Court on Tuesday.

COLUMBIA — The Missouri State Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to hear the appeal of Ryan Ferguson, convicted in 2005 of killing Columbia Daily Tribune Sports Editor Kent Heitholt.

“We expected that,” said his father, Bill Ferguson, on Tuesday afternoon. “We were never under the illusion that it would work out.”

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Ferguson’s public defender, Ellen Flottman, declined to comment on the decision but said Ryan Ferguson will now ask for a secondary review on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Ferguson, 22, was convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the 2001 beating and strangulation death of Heitholt. Boone County Circuit Judge Ellen Roper sentenced Ferguson to 40 years in prison.

Two maintenance workers found Heitholt’s body in the newspaper’s parking lot early on the morning of Nov. 1, 2001.

More than two years later, Charles Erickson, a friend of Ryan Ferguson’s, told police that he had begun having “snapshot” memories of the slaying and believed he and Ryan Ferguson committed the crime. Both were 17-year-old students at Rock Bridge High School at the time of the killing.

Erickson, 23, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Ryan Ferguson’s father said his son’s request for review will be on the grounds that his trial lawyer, Kansas City attorney Charlie Rogers, was ineffective in his representation.

“We’ll present evidence of what our attorney should have done that he didn’t do, which will be considerable,” Bill Ferguson said.

That motion will be filed in Boone County Circuit Court, which could overturn Ferguson's conviction or uphold it, according to the Missouri Attorney General's Web site. If the court upholds Ferguson's conviction, he may then appeal to the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals.

Stephen Easton, an MU law professor, said ineffective assistance of counsel is common grounds for appeal.

“It gives a second bite at the appellate apple,” Easton said.

But, he said, claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are not easy to prove.

“You have to establish that your counsel made a serious error beyond the difficult decisions that trial lawyers face all of the time ... and that it was a seriously deficient representation,” Easton said. “And that deficiency had to have a substantial likelihood of affecting the outcome (of the trial).”

Heitholt’s family could not be reached for comment Tuesday.


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