Tag Archives: Ryan Ferguson

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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Back on the Box Once Filled With Soap

If it were to be researched, I’d probably find out that I am addicted to true crime shows.  I’ll bet there is a term out there to describe that addiction too.  Something like “crime show addict” maybe.  Shows like “Dateline,”and “48 Hours Mystery.”  These are two shows that I never miss.  Never miss because if I can’t watch them at their regularly scheduled time, I record them.  And, I might add, I get annoyed when I’ve already seen the story on one show and now it’s on the other, which happens a lot.  The shows use different methods to reveal the “plots” though.  After watching the shows, I’m usually bothered by the fact that the defendants are convicted usually on nothing more than circumstantial evidence.  It also happens a lot.  I say this a lot too, “How could they possibly convict him/her with no evidence?”  I say that to no one in particular.

Back on March 29th, I watched a “48 Hours Mystery” that didn’t just bother me a little, I became incensed about the outcome of the case, and it lasted for days.  I searched online and read every scrap of evidence, court document and newspaper account that I could find.  The case, in my blog titled “…And Justice For All,” is the Ryan Ferguson murder trial.  A trial for the murder of Sports Editor Kent Heitholt of the Columbus, Missouri, Tribune.  A conviction earned mostly using the testimony of a witness that was, first,  given a deal by the prosecution, and second,  didn’t remember the murder until a year later in a dream he allegedly had.  Ryan has been denied seven appeals as witnesses have recanted testimony, new evidence has been found, new witness statements made, and obvious problems with the timeline of the crime have come to light.

When I wrote the story I got a comment from a reader in the area who was familiar with the case.  She said at the time she felt that Ryan was guilty, but over time had changed her mind.  The 48 Hours episode had made her rethink the case.  She told me that shortly after the murder “… the police visited Columbia bars with a mug shot picture. They had told the boyfriend of a friend of mine that they were interested in talking to a member of the MU football team because the victim was a sports reporter. I remember thinking that the mug shot looked like the QB.”

I have to agree somewhat, but does the police sketch look a lot like Ryan Ferguson as well?  Clearly Ryan doesn’t look at all like the quarterback at MU, right?

Kathleen Zellner, Photo by Ann Kristen

Famous Defense Attorney Kathleen Zellner, has finally won Ryan Ferguson a new day in court.  An evidentiary hearing is set for the case on October 25th, in an attempt to vacate the 2005 conviction.  It took two years of legal manuvering, but a judge will hear co-defendant, the “dreamer” (my nickname), Charles Erickson recant his trial testimony.  He’s still indicating that Ryan was at the crime scene, but insists that he did nothing to the murder victim.   He originally said that Ryan had strangled the victim after he had initially beat up the victim with a tire iron that was never found.  Erickson also was fed information by police.  Captured on video, police tell Ryan what the victim was strangled with, because Erickson DIDN’T KNOW.  He was totally surprised on the video when he was told that it was the victim’s own belt.  The evidentiary hearing date is set for October 25th and could last five days. 

The case scares me.  Can you really be sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing someone, because a friend says you did it?  Jurys can decide the innocence or guilt of someone without real EVIDENCE.  It’s been proven time and again.  In fact, in this case, forensic evidence at the scene doesn’t match either of the co-defendants!  Common sense should tell you that a confession from a drug user with a dream sequence and clear evidence that he was fed information by police, with no forensic evidence to support it, should not be sufficient to convict of 1st degree murder.  Even the prosecution’s motive is called into question.  They say the boys killed Keith Heitholt to rob him, because they needed money to go back to a bar that was already closed.  How does this happen?

The Casey Anthony trial comes to mind.  Although most of us thought she was guilty, the evidence presented to the jury was just not there to convict her.  Thinking about it after the fact, although enraged about the verdict, I think that the jury decision in the case was correct.

The problem I see with this new evidentiary hearing is the opposite.  Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green will make the decision, not a jury. This could be an even scarier prospect in my opinion, because of the players on the prosecution.  Assistant Attorney General Stephen Hawke has said on previous occasions that he doesn’t believe the recantations of testimony are credible.  I wonder what he’s smoking.  Or is he protecting the system from this obvious miscarriage of justice and the careers of those it helped propel.  Boone County Circuit Judge Kevin Crane, for one.  WTF  He’s been accused by the defense of helping one of the prosecution witnesses remember what Ryan Ferguson and Charles Erickson looked like by showing him newspaper photos before he took the stand.  Judge Crane isn’t talking.

I’ve got a calendar follow-up set on the hearing, because I can’t stop believing that they convicted the wrong man.  Somebody out there knows the truth and if police had done their jobs in 2001, maybe this case wouldn’t be such a travesty of justice with everyone trying to cover their asses at the expense of an innocent man.


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What Exactly Is An Overzealous Prosecutor?

There seems to be a disturbing trend, and what I see as a constant theme, in the American Justice system.  That theme is “let’s get a conviction whatever it takes.”  If it takes making a deal with a convicted criminal to testify in trials with little or no physical evidence, to gain a conviction, let’s do it.  (It literally amazes me to see how innocent they make these criminals out to be in front of a  jury.)  If we have to withhold information from the defense to get a conviction, let’s do it.  (Don’t withhold evidence, that’s criminal, but withhold, say, a recanting of testimony right before a witness takes the stand.)  If we have to manipulate a jury to get a conviction, let’s do it.  (Let’s face it, this is considered a “skill” by most attorneys.)  And once we get that conviction, the tide is turned.  You now must prove in the appeal process that you are INNOCENT.  And instead of that decision being made by a jury of “your peers” it will be decided by a judge (or judges) in appellate courts.

 I pointed out one case that I’m watching very closely, a few weeks ago, the Ryan Ferguson case, in Columbia, Missouri.  I saw another one last night, the Anthony Graves case in Somerville, Texas.  Graves was an innocent man who served 18 years on death row in Texas for murders he not only didn’t commit, but there was really no way he could have committed them.  And, of course, there was no real physical evidence.  The only thing they had was the real murderer who saw him on the street when he was being arrested and decided to say he was involved.  He recanted that claim three times before trial and the prosecution knew it.  Once right before he took the stand.  The murders, seven of the victims were innocent children and babies, happened in a town miles away, and Graves knew none of the victims.  Nothing even to hint at a motive.  He also had an alibi.   His girlfriend.  But she refused to testify at the last-minute because she was afraid they would link her to the crime.  If her boyfriend, who had been home with her the entire evening with witnesses, could be tried for murder, why not her?

On this date, April 25th, 1989, James Richardson walked out of a Florida prison after serving 21 years on death row after being wrongfully convicted of killing his seven children.  Amazing case.  The jury handed down a death penalty verdict in a little over an hour and a half.  The majority of the testimony revolved around an unsolicited insurance salesman (the unsolicited part was carefully left out by the prosecution) trying to sell James insurance on his whole family a few days before the children were poisoned.  He did not buy any insurance, because he couldn’t afford the premiums, so that fact should have been enough.  They also produced three convicts who testified that they heard Richardson admitting to the murders while in jail.  What the jury didn’t hear was that the prosecution knew that his wife was on parole for killing her second husband with poison and was suspected in killing her first husband the same way.  They didn’t prosecute her.  Probably wasn’t allowed by the judge, in fact I’m pretty sure of it.

Twenty-seven states have compensation plans for wrongly convicted and incarcerated individuals.  Texas is one of them.  They are also number one in carrying out the death penalty.  If the Anthony Graves case is any indication of the accuracy of convictions in the state, I wonder how many innocent men have gone to their death?

When Graves was released, they made a clerical error on his release papers, so the state of Texas is refusing to the pay the $1.4 million due him in compensation.  Unbelievable.  They should be bringing charges against the overzealous prosecutor that is still claiming he had it right and did nothing wrong.  He said the new prosecutor in the case, who had never lost a death penalty case, was afraid to try the case and lose, after the appellate courts finally granted Graves a new trial.  The real reason:  THERE WAS NOT ONE SCRAP OF EVIDENCE TYING HIM TO THE CRIME!     

So, does this happen often?  You’ve heard of the Innocence Project, right?  If you haven’t you should check it out.  According to the their website, there have been 268 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the US since 1992.  Seventeen of those served time on death row.  The innocent have served an average of 13 years and were an average age of 27 when they were incarcerated.  The good news is this new DNA evidence has found the real criminal in 117 cases.  The bad news is that DNA evidence is possible in less than 5-10% of all cases.

I’ve talked about three cases where convictions were secured by nothing more than the testimony of witnesses that were not in the least reliable.  Most all of the witnesses were plea bargaining, convicted felons testifying with promises from the prosecutors that they would be given better treatment, or shorter sentences, or not prosecute others they were protecting.  This just flat needs to stop.  And remember, all these “witnesses” did was say the individual did it, or overheard them say they did it while in jail awaiting trial.  No other proof whatsoever.  Just their word.

Second thing that has to stop is the weight put on the unreliable “eyewitness identification.”  I don’t put 10 cents worth of value on the identification of an eyewitness, and it should be weighted that way by police and, if it leads to trial, by a jury.  There is a very, very limited number of us that can recall someone with the kind of detail the police and prosecutors want to believe.

And lastly, every single second of police interrogation has to be video-taped.  Every single confession must be on tape, not written down by a third-party and signed by the alleged suspect.  Every single possible suspect needs to be investigated as well.  Enough of these prosecutor’s theories.  Get the evidence.  WTF.  Let’s start there. 


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…And Justice For All.

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/


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