July 22, 2007 Updated November 12, 2013
In a case rife with DNA and other physical evidence, not one shred of evidence linked 17-year-old Ryan Ferguson to the murder of Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune sports writer Kent Heitholt in 2001. Ferguson's conviction in 2005 proved only how far the police and prosecution would go to close Columbia's only unsolved murder. A Boone County (Mo.) Judge, at a three-day-evidentiary hearing in mid-July 2008, heard testimony of how the police and prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence from Ferguson's trial attorneys and manipulated and threatened witnesses who dared not support their trumped-up case against Ferguson.
(Editor's Note: CBS's "48 Hours Mystery" broadcast a re-investigation of the case on March 26, 2011 and June 15, 2013)
by Jane Alexander
Update: Ryan Ferguson Released From Prison A Week After His Sentence Was Vacated -- A three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District ruled on November 5, 2013 to vacate Ryan Ferguson's 40-year sentence for the murder of Columbia Tribune sports columnist Kent Heitholt in 2001. "Under the facts and circumstances of this case, we conclude that Ferguson did not receive a fair trial," Judge Cynthia Martin wrote in summary of the court's decision. "His verdict is not worthy of confidence." In particular, the judge noted that the prosecution withheld information that supported Ferguson's innocence from his trial attorneys. The U.S. Supreme Court established in 1963 that withholding such exculpatory evidence from the defense was grounds for a new trial.
The court ordered Ferguson released within 15 days if the prosecutors do not file an appeal or notice of a retrial by then. On November 12, the Missouri Attorney General's Office announced that Ferguson would not face any further state charges nor would the state appeal the court's ruling to vacate his sentence. Later that day, Ryan Ferguson's nightmare was over as he walked out of the Boone County jail a free man. The next two questions will be how can the State of Missouri possibly justify keeping Chuck Erickson in prison for a crime he had no part in and who murdered Kent Heitholt?
Ferguson and Erickson were convicted in 2005.