Known as the ‘Halloween murder’ – it could be one of America’s worst miscarriages of justice.
Ryan Ferguson was 21 when he was sentenced to 40 years in jail because a friend, (who now admits he made up the story), accused him of taking part in a murder that came to him in a DREAM. Ryan REMAINS in prison.
On 1 Nov 2001, Halloween night, Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt, 48, a ‘gentle giant’, was found dead in his office parking lot after leaving his office at 2am. The popular married father of two had been beaten with a tire tool and strangled with his own belt.
The last person to see Heitholt alive was junior sports writer Michael Boyd who was never investigated despite suggestions that Heitholt was critical of his work and there was friction between the two men.
The case would go cold for two years until one night, a 19 year old student called 911.
The caller, Chuck Erikson, 19, claimed that in a DREAM he thinks he killed someone and has a confession to get off his chest.
He explained that his friend Ryan Ferguson, 19, was with him, drinking under-age at a bar, when they murdered the sports reporter. The accusation by Erikson, a drug user, is that he struck the reporter (for the record, a giant of a man and larger than the 2 boys) , before his friend Ferguson strangled him. The motive, according to Erikson – they needed money for more drinks at the bar that they were at.
Years later, as Ferguson languished in jail, his father Bill would prove the bar was not even open at that time. The question – why on earth would two 17 year old students working towards their future, need to murder a man simply for a few more drinks.
It would later emerge that witnesses had lied, motives were discounted and the sole accuser was COACHED by police.
Perhaps one of the most troubling aspects, as a recent NBC documentary presented by Keith Morrison, examined (Dateline : The Mystery on Halloween Night) - the last person to see the victim alive was never treated as a suspect or ruled out.
The Columbia Tribune reports that fellow sports-writer Michael Boyd told police he was sitting in his car, listening to music moments before the murder.
He stated that he saw a cat that Heitholt normally fed at night walking around Heitholt’s car.
When Heitholt motioned to suggest he was leaving, Boyd told police he left via a side exit and drove home.
Only after reading news reports did Boyd tell detectives he too saw two white young men leaving the parking lot. He was never called to testify.
Despite campaigns, appeals and cold case reviews, the only evidence used in court was by two people who have recanted their statements under oath. In 2010 Jerry Trump a janitor at the Columbia Daily Tribune, withdrew his statement in which he claimed he saw the two boys at the scene. He admitted that prosecutor Kevin Crane had shown his photographs of the boys.
Charles Erickson, who initially told detectives and prosecutors that he had a ’dream-like’ recollection of the two taking part in the crime on Halloween night in 2001, now admits he ‘lied through his teeth’ to save his own skin and now wants to repair the damage. Erikson, is serving a 25-year-sentence, and his story has changed. He now claims he acted alone and has even attempted to contact Ferguson in jail to apologise.
Ryan Ferguson’s lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, filed a new petition in early 2013 asking for an appeal. Judge Daniel Green is reviewing new evidence that has come to light today in Cole County Circuit Court, deciding if there is enough evidence for a retrial.
The case would take a troubling new twist when it emerged, via police interview tapes, that Eriskon had been ‘coached’ by police who disclosed evidence that only they knew.
Erikson, who was a drug user, told police during interview, that his memory was not clear. He wrongly stated that a shirt had been used to strangle the victim. Detectives tell Erikson that a belt was used.
He later admitted in an affidavit:
The police threatened me to implicate Ferguson or else I would be solely responsible for Heitholt’s death and be charged with first-degree murder and possibly sentenced to death.
Now, even jury members have expressed doubt. They deliberated for only 5 hours before the guilty verdict.