Imprisoning Ryan Ferguson

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. 
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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?

Nothing.

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.
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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.

32 comments:

Luisa Doraz said...

If a person is guilty, so be it. If there is doubt, investigate. The worst thing to happen to a person is to pay for the sins of another.The truth will prevail, right? Have a safe week.

Diane Estrella said...

If he truly is innocent, then that is a lot of life wasted. So sad!

Pat Hatt said...

At first with both recanting sounds like they were paid off, but that's just my mind. Suck if he truly was innocent, sounds like all was done though, but another look couldn't hurt.

Bob G. said...

Slamdunk:
Makes you wonder...
A botched case gtets a killer off all too foten.
But a retrial can ALSO do the same.
There must be sufficient evidence initially to BRING Fergusaon to trial in the first place, so one would think.

The appellate system can be over-used, and often is.

Good story.
Stay safe out there.

LD Masterson said...

Terrifying, isn't it?

messymimi said...

It makes you wonder what could happen to any of us. We always hope justice will be served, but will it?

Clarissa Draper said...

I hope he gets justice and soon!

lisa said...

This is my town so we can't help but follow it. There are a lot of egos at stake here, which may be why it's not going anywhere.

Audrey Allure said...

Hopefully everything is carefully relooked at and it works out for the best!

Kay G. said...


It pleases me that you took the time to look into this and did a post about it. Thanks.

Kay

AbigailCW said...

It is always sad when things like this happen. Our system is going to be imperfect and that is why we need to right things that went wrong. This young man certainly at least deserves another trial. I wonder how many other people are found guilty because the "witness" was pressured.

Slamdunk said...

@ Lisa: Thanks for the local perspective on this one.

@ Kay G.: Your welcome and I can see why you were struck by how unfortunate this case has turned out.

Momma Fargo said...

Sounds like an interesting case. Will be watching for your updates and follow up to the latest developments!

jodeeluna said...

What a heart-breaking story.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Oh, no. I've heard about stuff like this before. To be honest, I'm surprised any court accepts "eye witness" accounts of anything. People are notoriously horrible at accurately identifying what they see. They don't test with classes where someone will burst into a room and do something crazy and run out, then everyone is interviewed about what they see. It's all over the map. I, for one, would make a terrible witness.

ladyfi said...

He looks so young!

Stephen Tremp said...

Wow! What can you say when it seems the wrong guy with no record and a bright future is in prison? Lots of innocent people rotting away in a cell. Justice will be served one day for all. Until then I feel for people who are paying a debt to society they are not responsible for.

Maxi said...

These witnesses coming forward with new information should be enough for a new trial.
Blessings ~ Maxi

Brian Miller said...

wow a little bizarre you know...the witnesses recanting and still he sits in jail...that has to be pretty demoralizing...and i wonder at the motives of the witnesses now too...

Sorta Southern Single Mom said...

I hate stuff like this... it just turns my stomach!

Lisa @ Two Bears Farm said...

Weird to me that both would recant. But if he is innocent, I hope they are able to prove it.

Miranda Hardy said...

I hope, if he is truly innocent, he's able to win the new trial and his freedom. It's such a shame he was placed in this position to begin with. It's scary, actually.

EC Stilson said...

How sad! I wish there were some way to prove what really happened. It's such a tough world out there.

Janet Johnson said...

False accusation stories just make me sick. Lives destroyed with lying words. :(

Elise Fallson said...

What an unfortunate situation to say the least. I just hope if he's truly innocent, he'll be released.

Kristen @ Motherese said...

I will keep the victim and his family in my heart and hope that the true culprit is brought to justice.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I agree with Diane. That's terrible if he is truly innocent. His life was ruined for nothing. He doesn't get to do a redo.

Kathy Huenefeld said...

Thank you for covering Ryan's story. This young man needs to be set free so he can go back to his life. Please help Ryan by signing the petition on his facebook under "free ryan ferguson" or on www.freeryanferguson.com. FREE RYAN!

Blond Duck said...

May justice prevail!

Miss Caitlin S. said...

These situations are so heart-wrenching. If he really is guilty and a good liar (with convinced Parents): I would hope he would have to pay for what he did. But if he really is innocent, sitting in jail is just awful. Ugh. I guess I'm sometimes a bit bias as I feel like most of the time, when someone is accused of something, there's often good reason for that.

CLYDESDALES 1 2 AND 3 said...

Be sure to watch the CBS News re-do by Erin Moriarty on 2/23/13, 9:00 EST, 8:00 Central.

Erin has covered this story from the beginning beautifully. So has Dateline. The new information in the case will make you wonder even more how these two young men ended up in prison. The table should turn and put the State of Missouri in the "hot seat" for allowing its elected officials to stand by, slap their hands and giggle " ... another case under the rug". America! Open your eyes! This goes on everywhere in our once delicious country. This WILL NOT STOP until the price for doing it becomes toooooo steep.

Jen said...

Why do they even still allow eyewitness testimony? It's proven unreliable time and time again...