May You Have The Body

That’s the translation from the Latin, “Habeas Corpus.”  A “writ of habeas corpus” forces a hearing in front of a judge to determine if a prisoner is being lawfully held.  In other words, does the state have the right to imprison the individual.  It’s a last ditch effort for Ryan Ferguson to gain his freedom for a crime he clearly did not commit.  He’s not petitioning for a new trial, that was already denied, he’s asking to be released because the evidence doesn’t support the conviction, thus the State of Missouri has no right to imprison him.  His attorney, Kathleen Zellner, is hoping that the judge in this case, Judge Green, will rule that the State of Missouri “may not have the body” and will have to order a new trial if they want to keep him in prison.

The “evidence” – go ahead and look at it, it’s all over the Web, –  just makes you shake your head in disbelief and makes you hope to hell you don’t ever have a friend, or acquaintance, go to police and say you helped them murder someone.  It seems pretty easy to get convicted, especially if the prosecutor makes a plea deal for your friend in return for their testimony.  And let me just add, that the friend doesn’t remember any of this confession that implicates you, until two years later during a drug-induced episode, a dream, and…the police help your friend along with his confession by feeding him details of the crime.  You can watch that video, in its entirety, and in whatever state of shock you want.  

What I simply cannot understand is how, first, a jury convicted him, second, how judges can review the evidence and still believe that Ferguson is guilty, and third, how incompetent and careless the Columbia, Missouri, Police and Prosecutor (who is now a Boone County Circuit Judge) handled the investigation and trial of Ryan Ferguson.  How can anyone in Columbia, or the State of Missouri feel good about this verdict?  How can they believe that they have the right perpetrators, that the real killer or killers have not gotten away with murder?  And what about motive?  Did a jury really believe that they wanted a few dollars to go back to a bar that was already closed, so they killed “The Columbia Tribune ” sports editor, Kent Heithholt, and left the wallet on his car seat?

They walked around until they found a huge man they thought would be easy prey?  Especially since it would have been difficult to sneak up on him, even at 2:20 in the morning.  Not your most likely victim if all you want is a little cash.  Come on people.  You beat the victim with a tire iron, that has no finger prints on it, and results in no skull fractures, and strangle a very large man with his own belt?  There was plenty of physical evidence at the scene, but none of it ties Erickson or Ferguson to the crime.  Not one piece of physical evidence.  One member of the jury said he just couldn’t believe that Erickson, the “friend,” would lie about something when he knew he was going to jail.  Really?  Maybe that’s where the drug addict wanted to go.  And the janitor, Trump, that claimed to make a perfect identification of the two boys from over 75 feet away, but only after he saw a newspaper photograph of them while in jail for a sex-offense.  Really?  That’s all you got?  What happened to reasonable doubt?

I first wrote about this case on March 30th, 2011, after watching one of my favorite shows, “48 Hours Mystery.”  It made me so angry I decided to research the case further.  The more I dug into the evidence, the trial, the appeals, the recanted testimony, the inconsistencies in the time-line, and the reliability of the “witnesses” in the case, a conviction seems impossible.  But Ryan got 40 years for second-degree murder and first-degree robbery. 

The habeas hearing testimony started Monday, April 16th, and the judge has not ruled on the writ at this point.  The reports on the hearings are some of the most read stories in the “Missourian,” one of the local newspapers, so the case is still getting a lot of local attention.  The judge’s ruling on the writ should happen  soon.  My gut feeling is that the judge is not going to release Ryan Ferguson from prison and his last available attempt at justice will be for naught.  The state argues that there is no new evidence in the case.  They argue that Erickson recanted his testimony while in prison because it’s easier to survive in there if you’re not known as a snitch.  Boy, I’m buying that argument, for sure..

Those that believe Ferguson is guilty say the press has continually slanted the story, especially CBS in their detail of the case on “48 Hours Mystery,” but I think it’s easy to be biased based on the evidence, or the complete lack of it.  The prosecutor says there is no new evidence to warrant a new trial.  That’s because there was no “evidence” in the first place.  I think so-called eye-witness testimony, especially related to identification of a suspect, needs to be weighted by the judge to the jury.  I’m pretty sure that I could see a murder with my own eyes, and the chances of me picking out the suspect, with certainty, would be slim to none, and I consider myself a pretty observant person.  I might get some physical characteristics right, maybe, but to sit in the witness chair and unequivocally say that the individual seated at the defense table was that person…not in a million years.

On the left is a composite sketch released and circulated in March 2003. Who would you say looks more like the police sketch, Ryan or this guy?

This is what Ryan wrote on a legal pad during his trial in 2005:  ” …As I sit here now, writing this, I don’t know what to think.  All I keep saying to myself is ‘Please don’t convict me of something I didn’t do “&” please don’t take my life for something I have no involvement in.’  I’ve never been more visibly shaken & scared in my life.  How can these people possibly think I committed this crime.  I’m Innocent! “

Whether Ryan is innocent or not, is really not the main issue here.  You have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.  The burden of proof, the fact that you are innocent until PROVEN guilty, that burden is on the state.  They didn’t even come close, and the system does everything it can to prevent a do-over.  Judge Green, let’s get this one right.




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9 responses to “May You Have The Body

  1. Tina Adamson

    It certainly makes you feel confident in our justice system doesn’t it?

  2. Like I alluded to when I posted a comment around a year ago on your “…And Justice For All…” post: This case was a key point in my loss of naivety about how the justice system/world works. I don’t have anything new to add at this point other than mentioning that the judge’s decision is expected in June.

    If the first decision is not tossed out, I’m wondering if an Alford plea may be an option (like it was for the WM3).

    • Jena, thanks as always for your comments. Just curious, what do you think the judge will rule?

      I’m obviously not a lawyer, but I don’t think the Alford plea would work here. In MO the defendant has to admit that the state has sufficient evidence to convict without pleading guilty. I think their whole defense has been the opposite. The habeas corpus writ is Ryan’s last chance for justice and freedom.

      • I can’t imagine one judge make a ruling that would be a slap in the face of a colleague. Since the crux is basically that former Prosecuting Attorney (and now judge) Kevin Crane behaved inappropriately and unethically, it’s hard for me to imagine success.

        However, in recent times in Missouri a couple of convictions were overturned that were prosecuted by Kenny Hulshof, who became a U.S. Representative. So, it’s not completely without recent precedent.

        I’m not an attorney either. But in Arkansas the attorney’s seemed to have a similar strategy to the Ferguson one. I guess. Maybe.

      • I’m sure you’re right. They do tend to protect their own. I think it’s pretty obvious that Crane screwed up the case. They didn’t even know Ferguson existed for two years, so there was no evidence leading them to him. Without Erickson, they had no case, so they made one up. In my mind, I have a closing statement that would have made the jury ask why they were even sitting through this fiasco.

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