Father speaks to RSU students about his son’s ‘wrongful’ conviction
Mark Friedel Staff Reporter
Guest speaker Bill Ferguson spoke during a criminal justice Wrongful Convictions class Tuesday at Rogers State University. Ferguson described his ongoing experience as the father of a teenager who he says was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for murder nine years ago in Columbia, Mo.
Ryan Ferguson was sentenced to 40 years in prison for first-degree robbery and second-degree murder of Kent Heitholt, sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune. Ryan’s friend at the time, Charles Erickson, told police that the two killed Heitholt in the parking lot of the newspaper just after 2 a.m. on Oct. 31, 2001.
Bill Ferguson said his son, Ryan, does not deny the fact that he was drinking underage with Erickson in the area of the Columbia Daily Tribune that Halloween night, but he repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder.
“Ryan’s story has never changed,” he said.
Major networks and credible investigative reporting programs, such as NBC’s “Dateline”, “Today” show and “48 Hours”, have covered the conviction as a breach of the integrity of the criminal justice system, said RSU Criminal Justice Professor Diana Clayton.
Ryan Ferguson was convicted on the testimony of two individuals, Erickson who pleaded guilty to second degree murder, first degree robbery, and night custodian Jerry Trump, who identified Ferguson as one of the men in the parking lot.
After three attempts to appeal the original courts decision, a habeas hearing was held in 2012 with a lower court judge in a different county from where the crime took place. During the case, both men, Trump and Erickson admitted to perjury.
While on the witness stand, Trump broke down in tears and said he committed perjury, which was aided and abetted by the prosecutor.
When Erickson took the stand, he explained that he received false police reports, that he was lied to, saying he doesn’t remember anything. Erickson told the judge that he did what the prosecutor told him to do to get a better deal for himself.
Now there are no witnesses and no other evidence linking Ryan to the crime.
“The tire tool, which was used at the murder scene to strike Heitholt in the head, was sent to the FBI. Fingerprints didn’t match up and strands of hair didn’t match,” he said. “But without new evidence proving his innocence, the judge was not able to overturn Ryan’s case. So I’m out to get new evidence and we will now appeal the judge’s decision to the Western District Court of Missouri.”
On Sept. 10, an oral argument was held with judges. The court is currently taking the case under consideration. That same day, Bill Ferguson began his cross-country drive to raise awareness and build support for his son.
While meeting with RSU students following the Wrongful Convictions class, he said that accountability is the first step to fixing the court system.
“When someone gives a police report, they should ask to record what is discussed with the police officers. Demanding accountability and educating oneself will make a big difference,” said Bill Ferguson.
“Do not make a statement unless you have an attorney present.”
For more information on the Ryan Ferguson case, visit freeryanferguson.com.