By Bruce Fischer
On December 5, 2005, Ryan Ferguson was found guilty of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery of Kent Heitholt and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Ryan was convicted based on the accepted testimony of two people, Chuck Erickson and Jerry Trump. Both Erickson and Trump have since given sworn affidavits stating that they were lying.
With both key witnesses now discredited, there is zero evidence against Ryan Ferguson. No witnesses, no physical evidence, nothing tying him to the crime. Truth be told, he should never have been convicted in the first place, because the main witness was never credible. The jury simply believed Chuck Erickson’s story.
Ryan Ferguson and Chuck Erickson were Rock Bridge High School juniors who snuck into a nightclub on Halloween night 2001 and left sometime around 1:15 a.m. Ferguson said he drove Erickson home, then went home himself. He has never wavered from his account.
Years later Chuck Erickson told friends that he had dreams about the murder. He said he initially repressed his memory of the killing but began to recall details two years later after reading news reports of the crime. Details emerged in his dreams, he claimed. He called the encounter a botched robbery hatched when they ran out of money and wanted to keep drinking.
The police brought Erickson in for questioning after hearing about his stories. In the interrogation tapes, it is clear the police provide info about the crime to Erickson leading to his confession. Erickson eventually implicated Ferguson in the murder. There was never any physical evidence against either of them.
The second witness janitor Jerry Trump originally told friends he could not identify who he saw near the body. During the trial, he positively identified Ryan Ferguson.
Both Erickson and Trump now claim they were coerced into modifying their statements in favor of the prosecution of Ferguson. Erickson blamed Columbia Police interrogators for not delving into inconsistencies in his own story, and Trump said Prosecutor Kevin Crane had told him before the trial that it would be “helpful to him” if Trump could identify Ryan Ferguson as one of the men in the parking lot.
In light of these significant changes in eyewitness testimony, it is clear that Ryan Ferguson deserves a new trial. This week Ryan hopes to get that opportunity.
In August 2011, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Hawke agreed that the new evidence warranted granting Ferguson a new hearing. Ryan’s hearing began on April 16, 2012, and will decide if Ryan is granted another chance to prove his innocence.