Thursday, November 18, 2010
More than six years after his son, Ryan Ferguson, was arrested for the slaying of Columbia Tribune Sports Editor Kent Heitholt, Bill Ferguson continues to believe his son is innocent and fights to prove it.
Ferguson gave a presentation Tuesday evening in the library auditorium of William Woods University outlining the case against his son and flaws that he perceives in the case and the justice system.
Peggy Nickerson, assistant professor in the legal studies department of WWU, invited Ferguson to speak to students.
“This is a learning experience for the students,” Nickerson said, “and certainly an opportunity for him to get the word out.”
The auditorium was packed with about 150 students. Nickerson told the students she was not trying to sway their opinion on Ryan’s case one way or another.
“You be the judge,” Nickerson said to students.
Nickerson said some of her students are familiar with this case, especially since Ryan was around the same age, 17, when the crime was committed as her students are now.
Ferguson spent most of the presentation going over Chuck Erickson’s statements to Columbia law enforcement authorities and describing the crime scene with the help of an overhead projector. Chuck Erickson was Ryan’s high school friend who told authorities two and half years after the murder that he and Ryan were involved. Heitholt was found beaten and strangled to death in the Tribune’s parking lot in the early morning hours of Nov. 1, 2001.
Ryan was convicted in October 2005 of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery and is serving a 40-year prison sentence.
Ferguson told his audience on Tuesday that there are many problems with Erickson’s confession to authorities and courtroom testimony. He went over certain statements and details that Erickson told officials that Ferguson called “unstable.” He also said that his son never confessed to the murder and always maintained his innocence.
“Ryan never changed his story, not one syllable of his story,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson also said the murder weapon, Heitholt’s belt, was never found, and he “can’t imagine” his son strangling someone of Heitholt’s size. He said Heitholt was 6’3” and weighed 315 pounds, a larger individual than Ryan and Erickson.
“These guys are too small to go around getting into fights,” Ferguson said.
Rachel Weber, senior at WWU, said that after listening to Ferguson’s presentation she was “surprised he (Ryan) was convicted.”
“I don’t feel like there’s a lot of evidence or facts in the case,” Weber said.
However, she said she also realizes that Ferguson would have a bias in favor of his son.
Throughout the presentation, Ferguson never disclosed what Ryan told authorities he was doing the night of the murder. He only said that though the police tried to “manipulate” his son into confessing, Ryan “never does.”
Doug Harris, sophomore at WWU, said his friend, who is studying law enforcement, convinced him to come to the presentation.
“It sounded really interesting,” Harris said.
Harris also said he remembers watching Ryan’s case when it was broadcast on CBS’s “48 Hours Mystery” program. The episode of the show was entitled, “Dream Killer,” referencing Erickson’s statements that he dreamed about the murder.
Harris said Ryan’s case “makes you think about our law system.” He believes Ryan is “absolutely innocent” and the murder conviction is “completely bogus.”
After nothing but defeats in Ryan’s court appeals, Ferguson said his son’s defense plans to file a petition for a habeas corpus hearing with the Cole County Circuit Court. He said this court could allow “new evidence” to be heard in his son’s case as soon as January.
The Ferguson family continues with efforts to provide the public with evidence they believe shows Ryan’s innocence, maintaining a Web site: www.freeryanferguson.com.