Missouri Court of Appeals vacates Ryan Ferguson conviction
Associated Press , DAVID A. LIEB
9:23 AM, Nov 5, 2013
3:23 PM, Nov 5, 2013
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -
A Missouri appeals court panel on Tuesday overturned the murder conviction of a Columbia man who has been serving a 40-year sentence for the 2001 slaying of a newspaper sports editor.
Just hours after the conviction was overturned, Ryan Ferguson's defense attorneys demanded his immediate release from prison.
The appeals court ruled that the prosecution withheld evidence from defense attorneys for Ryan Ferguson that could have aided him during his trial. Specifically, the court said prosecutors should have shared evidence from an interview with the wife of one of the prosecution's key witnesses that could have raised questions about his ability to identify Ferguson.
Ferguson, who was a high school student at the time of the slaying, was convicted in the strangling and beating death of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt in the newspaper's parking lot. The conviction came after a classmate, Chuck Erickson, came forward to confess that he had memories -- some from his dreams -- that he and Ferguson killed Heitholt during a robbery after running out of money at a nearby nightclub.
Erickson received a 25-year sentence as part of a plea agreement for testifying against Ferguson but has since recanted his testimony.
Another trial witness, former Tribune janitor Jerry Trump, also has recanted testimony in which he identified Ferguson and Erickson as the two men he saw in the Tribune parking lot the night of the slaying.
Trump originally had testified that, while he was in prison for an unrelated reason, his wife had sent him a Tribune newspaper that had pictures of Ferguson and Erickson in it -- and that he recognized them as the people he saw the night of the slaying in the newspapers' parking lot.
The appeals court said an investigator for the prosecutor's office had interviewed Trump's wife, Barbara Trump, who said she did not recall sending her husband a newspaper. The court said the investigator never wrote a report about the interview, so the information never was shared with Ferguson's defense attorneys, but should have been.
The Western District appeals court said Ferguson should be released if prosecutors have not filed notice of a retrial within 15 days.
The Ferguson family is expected to give a statement at 4:15 p.m. from Columbia, Mo.