Thank you to Kay over at Georgia Girl with an English Heart (you'll enjoy her travel and photography posts) for sending me information on the following case.
In 2005, a Missouri jury convicted then college-aged Ryan Ferguson for his role in the death of the sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Keith Heitholt.
Ferguson was sentenced to 40 years.
An alleged co-conspirator, Chuck Erickson, had gone to authorities, struck a deal, and testified against Ferguson.
Erickson stated that Heithold's murder was a the result of a robbery gone bad, and that Ferguson had delivered the fatal blows.
The jury also heard testimony from one of the Tribune's custodians, Jerry Trump, who positively identified Ferguson as one of the men he saw in the newspaper's parking lot when the murder took place.
The case may have ended there with the two young men serving long prison sentences.
But Bill and Leslie Ferguson have never given-up the fight to prove their son's innocence.
After years of failed attempts, the family finally caught a break.
Chuck Erickson (the alleged other robber) contacted authorities and admitted to lying under oath about Ryan Ferguson.
He said that Ryan did not kill the victim.
What is his current story about how Keith Heitholt died?
He says that he had been drinking heavily and doesn't remember much about the night or morning.
Ok, so the prosecution's star witness admits to deceiving the jury.
He likely has mentally problems, right?
Why should anyone believe this inmate?
After hearing Erickson testify again at a special judicial hearing, something strange then happened.
The prosecution's second witness, Jerry Trump (the janitor), recanted his testimony as well.
Trump admitted that he was not sure that Ryan Ferguson was the young man he saw in the parking lot that morning.
From the courtroom stand, Trump fought back tears as he apologized to Ryan--saying that he felt pressured by prosecutors to positively identify him and has been fighting a guilty conscience for years.
Without the two witnesses, what was left of the prosecution's case against Ferguson?
The physical evidence recovered from the parking lot (fingerprints, etc.) could not be linked to either men.
There were no other witnesses placing Ferguson at the scene.
Actually, there were several other witnesses who placed Ferguson away from where the murder happened.
Ryan had no previous criminal record, and seemed to have a bright future ahead.
Prosecutors were left with nothing.
But, judges are very cautious in over-turning jury decisions, so Ferguson's review did not go in his favor. The judge felt that Erickson was lying with his current version and that Trump's original testimony was only a minor factor in conviction.
Kathleen Zellner is Ryan's current attorney and she has not given up hope.
Zellner is a respected attorney; known for her work with serial killer Larry Eyler (also known as the Highway Killer) in which she convinced him to confess to 21 murders prior to his death.
So, Ryan Ferguson sits in prison while his legal team tries to get him a new trial.
As the justice effort for the young man continues, Ryan's father, Bill, is asking people to consider signing an online petition--the goal being to persuade officials to grant his son a new trial and show that Ryan is not-guilty.
If you are interested, you can go here to review Bill's petition or you can go here and watch Dateline's video story on this case.
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