I was watching 48 Hours Mystery last night, and they were updating viewers on the case of Ryan Ferguson. Ryan, for those who don’t know, is a young man currently serving a 40 year sentence in Missouri for a murder he didn’t commit.
Ryan’s attorney has been trying to get him a new trial, and was granted a hearing in 2012. He needed to prove that there was new evidence not available at his original trial, for the murder of Kent Heitholt. Kent was a sports editor in Columbia, MO, who was beaten and strangled in his employer’s parking lot in the middle of the night back in 2001. There is no evidence that Ryan and his friend Charles Erickson committed this crime, or were even present at the scene.
Charles, a known drug and alcohol abuser came to the attention of authorities after receiving an anonymous call. They asked him to come in for questioning, and during the interrogation, proceeded to feed him details of the crime. Ultimately, Charles (known then as Chuck) confessed. Later, a convicted felon testified that he’d seen Charles and Ryan at the crime scene on the night in question.
It was the testimony of this man, Jerry Trump, combined with the false confession of Charles Erickson that landed both Ryan and Charles in prison for this murder. Charles, after agreeing to testify at Ryan’s trial, received a 12-25 year sentence for the crime.
Today, the two men have recanted, despite the fact that both could be charged with perjury for lying during the original trial. If Charles is charged with perjury, his original plea could be voided, and he could be resentenced to life in prison for the murder of Kent Heitholt. Clearly, he has no motivation other than that of his own conscience, for recanting his original testimony.
Jerry Trump has even gone so far as to claim the (then) prosecuting attorney talked him into saying he could positively identify Ryan and Charles as having been present at the crime scene that night. He now admits he saw no such thing.
The prosecutor, conveniently enough, is now a judge himself.
Today, Charles admits he has no memory of being anywhere near the crime scene. It’s likely Charles didn’t commit this crime either, but he seems to have accepted his fate as a convicted killer.
Ryan, however, is a different story altogether.
In November of 2012, the judge ruled against Ryan Ferguson, despite the fact that there are no longer any witnesses that can place him at the crime scene. There is no physical evidence of his involvement. To this day, the last person to see Kent Heitholt alive- a man who admits having seen him 5 minutes before the crime took place, in the same parking lot the murder occurred- has never been questioned. This man was Kent’s subordinate at work, and they reportedly had a rocky relationship.
In what universe is it appropriate not to question the last person known to have had contact with a murder victim?
Ryan Ferguson needs to be released. Justice cannot be served as long as he is behind bars, serving a 40 year sentence for a crime he simply did not commit. Were he to be retried, he’d almost certainly be acquitted.
You can read more about Ryan Ferguson’s case here.