My last post was filled with the news, facts and background. Now I want to step back and analyze (with the use of more facts and background).
Chuck Erickson claimed he and Ryan Ferguson committed the murder together, but that Ferguson was the main perpetrator. Now he says he did it all alone, but Ferguson was there. He claims Ferguson tried to stop him and didn’t. As commentators have pointed out, this is not that great for Ferguson if it’s true. Sounds like obstruction of justice, lying under oath, possibly accessory to murder and failure to report it to the police. People say if you didn’t want us to believe Chuck then, why should we believe him now? Is he trustworthy only when he says what you want him to say?
No. That is the point exactly. Chuck Erickson was not believable in trial and he is not believable now. The evidence has always indicated that both Ryan Ferguson and Chuck Erickson are innocent. If Erickson doesn’t want to appeal his own case, that is his business. His crime is not murder, it is perjury. But why would Erickson lie? Why would an innocent person claim to be guilty? If anything, Erickson needs psychological help or institutionalization.
Let me step back a bit more. Since the 1970s, psychologists and researchers have grappled with the concepts of repressed memories and the effect of misinformation on memory. Repressed memories happen when people encountered things so horrible they completely blocked them out (Erickson claimed not to remember killing Heitholt for 2 years). Misinformation is when you read or hear something false and later remember it as fact. Research has shown that while some repressed memories may be real, they can fairly easily be elicited by leading psychotherapy or the power of suggestion. Furthermore, research shows that the effect of misinformation on memory is quite significant. Misinformation affects the memories of stable, logical individuals. It is even easier to create repressed memories in the mind of an unstable person. Often, they start to believe the suggestions and recreate vivid fake memories that are very real to them.
From a 1997 article in The Scientific American:
“My own research into memory distortion goes back to the early 1970s, when I began studies of the “misinformation effect.” These studies show that when people who witness an event are later exposed to new and misleading information about it, their recollections often become distorted. In one example, participants viewed a simulated automobile accident at an intersection with a stop sign. After the viewing, half the participants received a suggestion that the traffic sign was a yield sign. When asked later what traffic sign they remembered seeing at the intersection, those who had been given the suggestion tended to claim that they had seen a yield sign. Those who had not received the phony information were much more accurate in their recollection of the traffic sign.
My students and I have now conducted more than 200 experiments involving over 20,000 individuals that document how exposure to misinformation induces memory distortion. In these studies, people “recalled” a conspicuous barn in a bucolic scene that contained no buildings at all, broken glass and tape recorders that were not in the scenes they viewed, a white instead of a blue vehicle in a crime scene, and Minnie Mouse when they actually saw Mickey Mouse. Taken together, these studies show that misinformation can change an individual’s recollection in predictable and sometimes very powerful ways.”
Police and prosecutors forcefully put ideas in Chuck Erickson’s head. Don’t take my word — watch the interrogation video. They told him he and Ryan killed Kent Heitholt. They told him how they did it. They had to show him where it happened. He didn’t know any details until being spoon-fed during interrogation. The only information he provided police was the information made public in a newspaper story he read about the murder shortly before confessing. He even told them he was piecing together the information and guessing based on the story he read.
The Scientific American article continues:
“Misinformation has the potential for invading our memories when we talk to other people, when we are suggestively interrogated or when we read or view media coverage about some event that we may have experienced ourselves. After more than two decades of exploring the power of misinformation, researchers have learned a great deal about the conditions that make people susceptible to memory modification. Memories are more easily modified, for instance, when the passage of time allows the original memory to fade.”
Erickson didn’t confess to the crime until 2 years after it was committed. His original story to police was that he dreamed he committed the murder after reading an article about it in the local newspaper. He told them that he couldn’t remember anything and might be “fabricating the whole thing.” Look what the research points to. Suggestively interrogated? Yes. Influenced by media coverage? Yes. Passage of time? Yes.
Ryan Ferguson should never have been convicted on Erickson’s testimony. This new evidence provides solid basis for what Ryan Ferguson’s defense has been all along. He’s innocent. Chuck Erickson is innocent. Chuck Erickson is unreliable and his word is not enough to convict someone on. Still unsure? Watch the video again. This is not TV drama, it is real life.
If you believed Erickson the first time, you should ask yourself now how much scrutiny each of his statements deserved. If you didn’t believe him the first time, you should not be at all surprised that his story is still changing. If you believe in justice and fairness, you should see that Ryan Ferguson’s case at least deserves a second look.