Analyzing Erickson

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.

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About Nicole

Daughter of God, wife, mother, volunteer youth leader, substitute teacher, aspiring writer, rabbit owner, nature lover. These are some of my titles.
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14 Responses to Analyzing Erickson

  1. FoolsGold says:

    Chuck Erickson was lying then and he is lying now. Neither Chuck Erickson nor Ryan Ferguson were anywhere near the scene of the crime at the time the murder took place and each of them knows that. Chuck Erickson knew then and knows now that he did not commit the crime. He wanted to go to prison and he wanted to have a good “rep” when he did so. There is no implanted memory.

    The cops know how to conduct an interrogation.
    The DA knows how to evaluate one.
    The cops, DA and Judge all know how reliable jailhouse snitches are.

    There is no mystery here.
    The cops had a convenient way of solving the case.
    The DA had a convenient way of making a reputation for himself.
    Chuck Erickson had a convenient way of making a reputation for himself.
    No mystery at all.

  2. Nicole says:

    I agree with your first two sentences, but am pretty cautious about the rest of it. I don’t want to commit the same crime as police, prosecutor, judge and jury by making someone guilty of something without solid evidence.

    It’s possible that all of this was on purpose, but I like to have a little more faith in humanity than that. Maybe that makes me an idealist. It seems to me quite plausible that Chuck Erickson believes everything he has said. It’s hard to comprehend, but mental illness is well documented and makes no sense to logically thinking people. Maybe Chuck needs our pity rather than our scorn. Of course, I could be wrong. Why do you think he wanted to go to prison?

    As for the police, it is harder to believe they were acting on good faith that this was all true. But it’s not completely impossible. In general, I respect policemen very much for the work that they do. They are overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated by the community that they risk their lives for every day.

    Of course the cops were under a lot of stress over this case. A murder like that is a big deal in Columbia. It had been two years; statistically their chances of catching the murderer was not good. So Erickson and Ferguson’s own friends reported to police that Erickson had been talking about it. Often the story gets told that Erickson went to police, but they were actually tipped off first. So they bring in this kid who’s obviously scared and doesn’t want to go to prison. They know he’s the weaker one, so they need him to tell them about Ferguson. It might make sense to them that he’d claim his memories were foggy and claim he might be making it up. They probably thought he was giving them a load of BS. They were trying to break him, which seems to be the point of all interrogations. Also keep in mind they didn’t have all this research and all these news stories laid out before them like we do now. It’s possible that they just make a terrible judgment but did it in good faith that they had finally solved this crime.

    By the time of trial, it was becoming quite apparent that all of this was wrong. But at that stage it’s out of the police’s hands. From there, the guilt is on the prosecutor, judge and jury. Maybe they were all fooled, too. Then again, maybe not. The jury seems the most likely to have been fooled. The judge should have known better. Prosecutor Kevin Crane most definitely should have known better. But like it or not a lawyer’s job is to win the case any way they can; that’s what they do. He probably broke the law in the process; that is a different story. The hardest person to forgive in my mind is Judge Jodie Asel for denying Ferguson a retrial. The reasons for requesting it were compelling and it really does smack of one judge trying to protect another (Crane). I don’t know what to say about Asel.

    Again, maybe you are right and it was all one big conspiracy. But the lesson of all of this is not to pronounce someone guilty unless you can absolutely prove it. I think we should step back and think about everything very carefully before we jump to conclusions and tout them as fact.

  3. FoolsGold says:

    Oh, I quite agree that there should be caution exercised in our forming an opinion as to whether it is more probable that weak-minded Erickson was tricked into believing something or not.

    I would suggest that in your understanding for an overworked and underpaid police officer you do not forget that none of these were inexperienced interrogators. None of them were encountering for the first time someone who was trying to BS them. None of them had sudden lapses in their knowledge or skills as police officers. And none of them gave vent to a momentary impulse to feed one teensy little spoonful of information to Chuck Erickson.

    As an indication of police interrogation techniques you might consider how clever it was to withhold the information about the belt from the press. You might also consider for just what purposes this was done. And you might wish to reflect upon the number of people who were questioned under various circumstances without this critical tidbit of information being blurted out by the police.

    Kane is an experienced prosecutor and is very good in court. In order to be so good in court he has to be very good in witness evaluation. He was not unaware of the nature of the janitor’s offense. He was not unaware of the general unreliability of jailhouse snitches. He was not unaware of the massive quantity of spoon feeding that had taken place.

    Now I realize that my conclusions are a bit shocking and quite a bit boldly stated and I would imagine that my crystal ball is just a wee bit too cloudy for the degree of certainty that I appear to espouse but despite my overall respect for officers of the court and officers of the law and my absolutely unequivocal respect for Elizabeth Loftus, I do not think this case involved any sort of implanted memories. Consider Chuck Erickson’s willingness to take the fall for a bit of jailhouse vandalism when he was in custody. The other inmates in the cell stated he had nothing to do with it but Erickson was willing to confess that he had done it. This clearly was not a memory issue.

  4. FoolsGold says:

    In making your statement that the judge should have known better and that the prosecutor should have known better (and by implication that the police interrogators should have known better), are you able to envision a plausible reason for their suddenly being bereft of all this knowledge that they had theretofore been endowed with as a result of their training and experience?

  5. FoolsGold says:

    >Chuck Erickson was not believable in trial and he is not believable now.
    Oh, I quite agree. Irrespective of the fact that he was not believable, he was in fact believed by the jurors. And it is very difficult for someone to recant their testimony and have such a recantation be effective in impeaching the jury’s verdict. We consider repose to be a value of and in itself. A matter once adjudicated should be considered settled. A witness’s credibility is a matter for the jury. Testimony once presented should lead to a final adjudication not a decision that can be forever undermined by a witness recanting his testimony.

    >The evidence has always indicated that both
    >Ryan Ferguson and Chuck Erickson are innocent.
    Of course it has. Despite all this spoon feeding of facts by the interrogators and prosecutorial actions and guff about memory and dreams, the one central fact is that two slightly built youths who don’t really know how to fight are not going to select as a victim a great big hulking ex-football player. No matter what advantage they may have regarding surprise and no matter what their state of sobriety, two slightly built youths do not attack a nearly three hundred pound well-muscled athletic victim. The crime was one that clearly involved a protracted struggle. Even if Kent Heitholt was taken completely by surprise while he had his back turned to his assailant, he would have prevailed over two slightly built youths. The fight continued, it ranged over a good bit of ground and it was a bloody struggle. It is clear that the assailant had to be a rather large and powerful male himself and that most particularly the assailant had to be someone who really knew how to fight. It may have been someone who knew Kent Heitholt though I would more likely believe it was an encounter with a violence-prone stranger, but whatever it was, the assailant knew how to fight.

  6. Nicole says:

    You make some very good points. We agree entirely on the most important conclusion: that this is all bogus and neither Ferguson nor Erickson were involved in the murder of Kent Heitholt.

    Unless (here’s something else that is pure speculation without an ounce of evidence) Erickson may have in some way witnessed it. Perhaps in his drunken state wandering around after they left the bar, he happened to see Kent Heitholt get attacked or at least see his body or see the police processing the crime scene. Again, this is 100% speculation, but what if an already troubled boy saw a bloody crime scene and was forever impacted by it? Maybe the images bounced around in his head so much he eventually decided for whatever reason to take blame. Obviously this is just a random idea.

    My question is whether or not you think Erickson is crazy? You make a good point about the vandalism, so created/implanted memory may not be the case. But what about some other mental illness? You said he knew what he was doing all along and wanted to go to prison. My question is why.

    Your point about the police interrogation is quite valid. I like to explore the possibility that they just made a mistake, but at the end of the day the whole thing does suggest pointed misconduct.

  7. FoolsGold says:

    >neither Ferguson nor Erickson were involved.
    Alas, if only the jurors had realized that. Yet, if they had, there might be continued editorial pressure on the cops and Kane would be an unknown prosecutor or else an unknown former prosecutor.

    >pure speculation … Erickson may have witnessed it.
    Extremely unlikely due to the time and distances involved.

    >My question is whether you think Erickson is crazy?
    No. I do not think he is crazy. Nor should you think so.
    He was losing his circle of friends, he was being considered as creepy, others were considering him strange, but that does not make him crazy. Consider the differences between “doing a cut”, “doing a yard” and “doing a stretch” in prison. You have undoubtedly heard and probably used the term “stretch” in that sense, yet you don’t really know of the other terms nor do you know the exact definitions. Its simply not part of your culture. Someone who does know these terms and how to use them properly is not crazy. He simply has certain cultural values and has made certain choices and adopted certain goals. You may think his choices were unwise and a waste of his potential, but you should not think him to be crazy.

    >But what about some other mental illness?
    Well, you could ask a shrink about that but I think you might better simply ask the classmates and friends who were shutting him out of their lives. Doesn’t that answer your question for you, even though it answers it without any degree of precision or any nice, neat category? Simply being sufficiently creepy and socially awkward that people reacted to him in a negative fashion is sufficient to define the existence of some issues even if it does not sufficiently pigeon-hole their exact nature. Ask around about Ryan Ferguson and you will get comments about his always having some lovely young lady friend with him. Ask around about Chuck Erickson and you won’t find anyone at all giving you that sort of a response or anything close to it.

    >You said he knew what he was doing all along
    Yes.
    >and wanted to go to prison. My question is why.
    Some males grow up with expectations concerning structure and social dominance. You may not comprehend those expectations, particularly when they are modulated by depression, alcohol or hormonal issues.

    >but the whole thing does suggest pointed misconduct.
    A bank teller who gives into a momentary impulse may have “just made a mistake” but a bank teller who steals money several times a day for several weeks is engaged in pointed misconduct. These cops didn’t just fall off a turnip truck, the cops knew right interrogations from wrong ones. The DA didn’t just fall off a turnip truck or have some sort of momentary lapse of judgment. The cops and DA knew clearly what was going on. Erickson knew what was going on but his perceptions were only slightly filtered by his mental and social troubles. It was naive Ryan Ferguson and his utterly naive family who where totally out of their element and had no idea what was going on.

  8. I have written “The Mother of a Delusional Schizophrenic Speaks Out” The symptoms are too striking to ignore.

    Please go to: http://msostergaard.wordpress.com

    Go to post of 2-9-10 to link to Original WORD Doc.

    Thank you I like commens.

  9. FoolsGold says:

    >Ryan Ferguson should never have been convicted on Erickson’s testimony
    Of course not! Indeed, he should never have been tried on such flimsy evidence and there should never have been any such style of interrogation taking place at all, much less being presented to a jury.

    Look however at the situation from the prosecutor’s viewpoint. If he lucks out and gets 12 votes for conviction, he really lucks out. If the jury fails to convict, he makes the usual mouthings and considers the case as solved and the newspapers are off his back. The DA does well no matter what the results, he just does best if he gets the conviction. And its not too hard to get 12 who sit there seeing a guy in stripes saying “WE did it” to convict that other guy as well.

    The DA’s choice was between a large feather in his cap or a small feather in his cap. Either way, the DA was going to go to trial with the dreamer who got educated by the cops simply because it was too tempting not to take it to trial.

  10. FoolsGold says:

    A question of values and variance.

    I was struck by Nicole’s attempt to resolve her doubts about Erickson’s confession by clutching at the straw of his having drunkenly observed some of the crime scene’s aftermath. Erickson’s behavior in falsely confessing to a murder and falsely implicating Ryan Ferguson is so beyond what the pop psychologists would refer to as nicole’s comfort level that it induces a belief in rather far fetched scenarios.

    >They were trying to break him, which seems
    >to be the point of all interrogations.
    No, the point of all interrogations is to obtain a confession. It is not some inquiry to discover the truth.
    >It’s possible that they just make a terrible
    >judgment but did it in good faith.
    Terrible judgment would by Yes. Good Faith would be No.
    The police were pursuing their goal. They did so in a manner that they knew at the time was well beyond proper investigative techniques. There can be a great deal of variance in police skills and behavior, but certain things are simply not “terrible judgments made in good faith”.

    >it’s out of the police’s hands… the guilt is on the
    >prosecutor, judge and jury. Maybe they were all fooled.
    Yes, maybe some very hard nosed, experienced cops were simply fooled. And a skillful prosecutor usually perfectly able to analyze an interrogation and evaluate evidence was somehow fooled.
    >Then again, maybe not.
    Precisely!
    Its often a question of “n”. This is the famed variable designated for quantity. Just how many interrogations do you think those detectives have conducted wherein their performance is so abysmally inept? Just how many cases has the prosecutor somehow overlooked things that reek to high heaven? It really can be a question of variance. Some people have bad days, some cases get poorly handled, sometimes performance is not quite up to par.
    The cops had a goal and in attempting to get a confession rather than the truth they were only following their standard goals. They were using their usual techniques, but in crossing the line to spoon feed the subject over and over again only to have him finally regurgitate a confession their behavior goes well beyond what might be termed having a bad day or making a regrettable error of judgment. Capable and experienced individuals may make mistakes in interrogations and inadvertently reveal something or they may make a minor error in tactically revealing something hoping to elicit a response of some sort, but a sustained and repeated revelation of the crime’s details is simply not within the normal variance in performance levels.

    Mistakes do happen. One California department returned an impounded car to its owner who promptly discovered her missing daughter’s corpse under the blanket on the back seat. Was this extremely incompetent performance? Clearly it was. Was it extremely unusual? Yes. Yet it remains simply a series of mistakes, none of which were part of some police conspiracy.

    An interrogation taking hours to complete is not equivalent to a one minute failure to spot a corpse in the back seat of a car. A crime scene reconstruction that would rival Mack Sennet’s Keystone Kops productions is not just a momentary unfortunate lapse in performance.

    The Columbia PD made many mistakes in this case. That 911 operator did a very poor job. The initially responding officers were less than optimal in their decision making. The canine officer started his dog at a poorly chosen spot. The police interrogated the last person to see the victim, by telephone thus losing forever the ability to observe any cuts and scratches. There were a great many mistakes made, but these were largely the routine matters of how things go wrong within the parameters of normal variation in quality of performance.

    Two years later, some screwed up kid with hazy recollections of a possible dream got a lesson that went well beyond the normal variation in the quality of police and prosecutor performance.

  11. FoolsGold says:

    In placing much of the responsibility for this on the shoulders of experienced and well-trained law enforcement personnel I am not trying to suggest some initial conspiracy but more that the practices, procedures and personalities involved all lead to certain results being likely. Once there is a glimmer of suspicion there can easily be a fixation that is not surmountable by later emerging evidence.
    The focus is on guilt and particular targets. The focus is not a neutral inquiry into the truth of the matter under investigation.

  12. FleaStiff says:

    The current motion for requiring the belt, belt loops and pants to be subjected to TouchDNA analysis is being needlessly contested and is therefore simply resulting in the imposition of more delay before issues are considered much less resolved.

  13. Fleastiff says:

    Some jurors are rethinking the wisdom of their actions but some remain convinced that Ryan is guilty and also remain convinced that their personal interpretation of the facial expression of Chuck Erickson as he glanced towards Ryan Ferguson trumps such things as evidence and common sense.

    http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/2011/may/01/ferguson-jury-rethink-decision/

  14. Nicole says:

    More people are seeing common sense, but some never will.

    Unfortunately, it would be a small consolation if all 12 of the original jurors made statements like the one who told the Tribune, “He’s innocent. I hope they just release him.” It doesn’t matter what those people think anymore. Their verdict stands whether they stand behind it or not. Right now, it seems like it doesn’t even matter that all the key witnesses originally against Ferguson now say he’s innocent.

    We can talk about this trial until we’re blue in the faces, but to whom is the court system answerable? If our judicial system runs like a democracy in the original trial, it certainly does not in the appeal process.

    This case continues to be infuriating. If Ferguson is ever released from prison, his life has already been irreparably harmed. Erickson would rehab far better in a mental institution than in prison, and isn’t rehabilitation in everyone’s best interest? Heitholt’s murderer may still be roaming around freely, reading an occasional newspaper story about the murder he pulled off – if he feels like it. And everyone responsible for this tragedy: over-eager police, a pushy prosecutor (turned judge) and gullible jurors all go on with their happy lives except for the annoying media who keep pestering them about that trial…

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