I watched an episode of “48 Hours/Mystery” last night. The show is still bothering me. A lot of people, especially in Missouri, probably already know a lot about the case of Ryan Ferguson, but I had never read or heard anything about it until last night. This is a travesty of justice on par with the “Scottsboro Boys” that I wrote about a few days ago! Yet, no black defendants or no all-black jury against a white defendant, just manipulation of the justice system by those in power. When you hear this story, if you haven’t already, you won’t believe it….or maybe you will.
First, as in many cases I’ve watched on the CBS show, they didn’t have a scrap of forensic evidence. Nothing to link the defendants to the crime. They had fingerprints, hair samples and bloody shoe prints at the crime scene, but none matched the convicted “killers” or anyone investigated in the case. The motive was pushing it even more. Supposedly they needed money to go back drinking in a bar they had been thrown out of earlier for being underage. A bar which was closed at the time of the murder.
They had eyewitness testimony that was clearly fed to the “witness” by police. (You can watch the videos if you think I’m being unkind to law enforcement.) They had a zealous prosecutor that locked on to a theory and never let it go, and still says these two did it, and that he is certain of it.
Juror’s convicted based on a “feeling” that Ryan Ferguson wasn’t telling the truth, and that a drug and alcohol abusing friend was more believable. The friend, Chuck Erickson (who now wants to be called Mr. Erickson or Charles) had already plea bargained his way out of severe punishment for the crime that he supposedly remembered from a dream! And for chrissakes, read some of the comments on the website. They’re still talking about Ryan’s demeanor during trial and his arrogance, and his silence (he did testify). HOW ABOUT THE EVIDENCE? WTF Don’t we prosecute based on evidence anymore?
It seems all too common in this country to be convicted of a crime based on the theories of the prosecution. If you can spin a good story to a jury, and they don’t “like” the defendant, you can often get a guilty verdict without a scrap of evidence. Guilty verdicts in high-profile cases get you moved up the career ladder. Like up to a judgeship which is what happened to the prosecutor in this case. And once you get that guilty verdict, it’s now a reversal in the appellate courts; you are guilty until proven innocent.
Reasonable doubt in this case was a no-brainer for the jury. They did have one other “eyewitness”, an alcohol abusing night janitor who claimed he saw the perpetrators and identified Ryan Ferguson in court as one of the men that fled the scene. However, one of those fleeing, stopped to talk with another female night janitor telling her that someone needed help before he ran off. Not at all what you would expect someone to do who just struck a man with a metal object and strangled him with his own belt. And none of the “eye-witnesses” saw the crime being committed.
The problem with all the testimony of the eye witnesses, including Chuck Erickson, that best friend, drug and alcohol abuser, who blacked out the crime and then remembered they did it, in a dream, recanted their testimony. To the point of some admitting they perjured themselves; lied on the stand. Yet the appellate court still affirmed the conviction. With each affirmation your anger grows as you watch the show, which is, of course, how the producers want you to feel.
Ryan Ferguson was 21 when he was sentenced to 40 years for the murder of sports editor Kent Heitholt in 2005. It was four years after the early morning murder in the parking lot of the Columbia Daily Tribune. It was the morning after Halloween. Ryan’s father has been the one turning up witnesses, gathering evidence, working with attorneys to file appeals for the last 6 years. He thinks they’re getting closer and he vows not to give up.
The Missouri Attorney General’s office will respond to the request for a hearing by May 2. The zealous prosecutor, Judge Kevin Crane, expects to be called as a witness who will undoubtedly still say he got it right.
The morale of the story might be to be more careful when choosing your friends. If all they have to do to get you convicted of murder is say they saw you do it, it might at least be a good idea not to piss them off. No matter, without solid evidence these cases should never be allowed to go to trial. And I don’t care what it costs, if just one witness recants their testimony in a felony murder trial without any forensic evidence, that’s a mistrial, and it needs to be retried.
Check out this Free Ryan Ferguson website for additional information. http://www.freeryanferguson.com/