Ryan Ferguson could go back to trial now that key witness Chuck Erickson has recanted his testimony. Erickson now says he killed Kent Heitholt alone.
Erickson gave a sworn deposition to Ferguson’s new lawyer, Kathleen Zellner (made public on Monday) recanting his testimony that Ferguson killed Heitholt.
In his most recent statement, Erickson said: “I made a lot of assumptions and turned them into facts to satisfy the police. When I did that, I used the opportunity to move the blame onto Ryan and off of myself.”
He continued, “I could not accept in my conscious mind that I was the sole perpetrator and aggressor, so I put a lot of the blame on Ryan. …I don’t think that much of it was even consciously done. It was just too hard to admit to myself and others that I killed someone. I could not even accept the possibility of it.”(According to an article in the Missourian.)
BACKGROUND: In 2004, Erickson testified that he and Ferguson had murdered Kent Heitholt at the Columbia Daily Tribune in November 2001. Ferguson maintained his innocence but was convicted solely based on Erickson’s testimony against him. Erickson got a plea bargain for testifying against his high school friend. The court decision received scrutiny from the beginning. Erickson’s testimony changed substantially throughout the investigation and trial. He originally said he dreamed they had committed the murder. Interrogation tapes seem to show the police leading Erickson and telling him crime details he did not know. No physical evidence linked either man to the crime. A Tribune janitor testified that she saw someone at the crime scene. She privately told prosecutors that it was definitely not Ferguson or Erickson who she saw. Ferguson has gone through several lawyers and had numerous appeals denied.
Now Erickson has admitted to perjury and recanted his testimony that was essentially the sole basis for Ferguson’s conviction. (Keep reading for more story and a ton of links to sources.) Ferguson’s lawyer has filed a motion to the Western District Court of Appeals for Ferguson’s case to go back to trial court based on the new evidence. The court could also skip the process and just make a new decision based on the evidence. If that doesn’t work, he can appeal to Missouri Supreme Court. If that doesn’t work, he can file a writ of habeus corpus to federal court.
This has been a long time coming and is by far the best breakthrough in Ferguson’s appeal attempts. May justice prevail in the end. If Ferguson doesn’t get an automatic new decision, I hope there’s a trial I can go to. I want to be in the courtroom when the find Ryan Ferguson not guilty. I’d also like to be in the courtroom when Erickson is convicted of perjury and has his plea bargain revoked. His lawyer should argue mental incompetency and try to get him institutionalized. There seems to be a lot of evidence that Erickson has some screws loose.
Erickson sent a letter to Ferguson in prison to get the ball rolling on this recantation. He was very conversational and didn’t show any remorse. In fact, he sort of threatened him.
According to the Missourian: In the letter, dated Nov. 9, Erickson wrote: “Have your lawyers come speak to me the next time that they’re down here. If you tell the media that I asked to see your lawyers, or you tell the media what I talked to your lawyers about before I can talk to my family and/or consult an attorney, it will be regretful. I hope that you are holding up.”
Get caught up on your Ryan Ferguson news:
Key Witness Recants in Ryan Ferguson Case, Columbia Missourian (Scroll down to find “Related Articles” sidebar on the left with links to older stories about Ferguson.)
Murderer changes his story, Columbia Daily Tribune (Also has a “Read More” sidebar, and 222 reader comments. It’s interesting to see the Tribune’s take; this case is very personal to them because the victim, Kent Heitholt, was the Tribune’s sports editor and was murdered in their parking lot after work.)
Witness Recants Testimony That Sent Man to Prison, ABC 17 News
Man recants testimony in murder of Columbia sports editor, stltoday.com (Associated Press)
Next Steps in Ferguson Appeal, KOMU 8
Dream Killer, CBS 48 Hours Mystery
Google “Chuck Erickson recant” to get several more stories about this development, including blogs and coverage outside of Missouri.
Speaking of blogs, check out my old ones about Ferguson: