The Ryan Ferguson Case: An Innocent Man Still Behind Bars
The Ryan Ferguson case: the story of an innocent man still behind bars, despite recanted testimony and no evidence linking him to the murder.
Guilty. The weight of this word and its ability to change lives are something the parents of Ryan Ferguson may not have spent time pondering prior to 2005. They were a happy suburban family with two great kids, too busy living their lives to ponder such things. When the jury foreman of their son’s trial announced guilty as the verdict, the Ferguson family felt the impact of one word, forever changing the course of their lives.
In our previous coverage of the Ferguson story, The Brenner Brief covered a controversial the decision denying the Habeas appeal for a new trial filed by Ferguson’s attorney.
Ferguson was convicted of the 2001 murder of Kent Heitholt, a local sports editor brutally murdered on Halloween night. Ryan Ferguson and Chuck Erickson were at a bar located near the crime scene on the night of the murder, but Ferguson, 17 at the time with no history of violence or a criminal record, has denied any involvement. Ferguson’s account of the events in 2001 remains unchanged since initially interviewed. On the other hand, Chuck Erickson has offered several accounts of the night in question and was fed details about the crime by local police, a crime about which Erickson knew little.
In exchange for a 25 year sentence, Erickson (pictured at left) agreed to testify against Ryan Ferguson. This testimony and that of another eye-witness were the keys to the state securing a conviction. Ryan was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
The word guilty forever changed the life of Bill Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson has made it his life’s mission to free his innocent son. His tireless work has been the subject of several news shows and attracted the attention of Kathleen Zellner, an attorney whose practice focuses on appealing wrongful convictions.
Zellner joined the team in 2009 and filed a Habeas appeal for a new trial in 2012. In addition to the alleged misconduct by Columbia police and former Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Crane, the complaint included the recantations of trial testimony from the two key witnesses — Chuck Erickson and Jerry Trump.
In a decision issued on the 11th anniversary of the death of Kent Heitholt, some would say to make a strong point of how hard the state will fight to keep an innocent man behind bars, Judge Green denied the Habeas appeal. Without the perjured testimony, no other evidence exists linking Ferguson to the murder of Kent Heitholt — no motive, no matching DNA, no history of violence, no criminal past and now no witnesses.
The facts of the case pointing to Ryan Ferguson’s innocence coupled with his family’s crusade to have him freed have drawn attention from many media outlets including 48 Hours, Dateline and The New York Post. The family welcomes the media exposure to the injustice faced by their son and believes with public awareness and support Ferguson may one day be freed.
The latest team drawing attention to the case of Ryan Ferguson is St. Louis Rams co-owner Chip Rosenbloom, New York Times best-selling author and former MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan, and Andrew Jenks from MTV’s World of Jenks. In April, Variety Magazine announced the group will produce a documentary about the Ferguson case focusing on the perjured testimony of two witnesses responsible for the conviction.
“Until April of 2012, Ryan had no chance of walking out of prison because of the original testimony of Jerry Trump and Chuck Erickson. When Erickson and Trump took the stand in April of 2012 and admitted they lied at Ryan’s trial both men subjected themselves to perjury charges by recanting. This has never happened before in an American courtroom in a habeas hearing. Recanting witnesses may give affidavits admitting perjury, but they rarely take the stand and admit perjury. This is the watershed event in Ryan Ferguson’s case. There is no case in the United States where the only alleged eyewitnesses recanted in open court, the conviction has been upheld, and the person remains incarcerated.”
After filing an appeal to Judge Green’s surprising decision, Ferguson’s attorney filed a petition requesting a Writ of Habeas Corpus. The Missouri Attorney General was to respond in March but requested an extension citing ‘heavy workload.’ On May 20, the state filed their response (inserted below) and it offered no new evidence. Rather, it merely repeated the state’s position to the appeal which was previously rejected by the Western District Court of Appeals.
So the Ferguson family wait continues and they expect a decision some time during the summer of 2013. One can only imagine how time drags for Ryan Ferguson and his family as they wait for justice to be served, time Ryan Ferguson will never get back. Ryan Ferguson was 19 years old with a promising future ahead when a jury found him guilty of murder. Ryan Ferguson is now 28 and has spent his youth behind bars serving 9 years for a crime he did not commit.