Charles Erickson enters the Cole County Circuit Court

Charles Erickson enters Cole County Circuit Court during the third day of an evidentiary hearing for former convicted murder defendant Ryan Ferguson on April 18, 2012, in Jefferson City. Ferguson was sentenced to 40 years after his 2005 conviction for second-degree murder and robbery in the death of Columbia Daily Tribune editor Kent Heitholt four years earlier but was exonerated in 2013. Erickson received a 25-year sentence as part of a plea bargain for implicating his Rock Bridge High School classmate. Erickson, meanwhile, had pleaded guilty to the murder in 2004.

An appeal by Charles Erickson of his conviction in the 2001 murder of Columbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt was denied Monday by a judge in Pike County.

Erickson pleaded guilty to the murder of Heitholt in 2004.

Erickson’s attorney filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in December, according to previous Missourian reporting. It’s a civil action that asks the court to decide the lawfulness of the petitioner’s imprisonment.

The 85-page petition argues that law enforcement and Boone County prosecutors took advantage of Erickson’s poor mental health, addiction and memory problem to convince him that he and his friend, Ryan Ferguson, killed Heitholt.

Ferguson pleaded not guilty on the same charges that Erickson was charged with in connection with the same murder. He was found guilty by a jury in 2005.

However, after serving almost 10 years in prison and a lengthy legal battle, Ferguson’s convictions were vacated in November 2013. He was released shortly after and was set to receive about $10 million in damages.

In the decision released Monday, the Pike County judge noted that Erickson did not raise the issue of law enforcement or prosecutorial misconduct at the time of the investigation and his plea. The judge added that Erickson no longer has a right to challenge his case, according to court documents.

“A defendant who fails to raise a legal challenge to his conviction on direct appeal or in a timely post-conviction proceeding has procedurally defaulted on those claims,” Associate Circuit Court Judge Milan Berry wrote.

Erickson was only 20 when he plead guilty to second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action.

Citing several facts surrounding the original investigation that led to Ferguson successful appeal, Erickson’s counsel cited a near complete lack of physical evidence tying Erickson to the crime scene.

But, the judge found that Erickson “freely, knowingly, and voluntarily entered a guilty plea,” according to the documents.

Erickson’s parole date is set for 2023.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

  • Investigative and courthouse reporter. I am a senior pre-law student studying data journalism at The University of Missouri's School of Journalism. Reach me at or @ByHunterGilbert on Twitter

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