Ferguson begins renewed effort to leave prison

Convicted murderer Ryan Ferguson’s attorney Kathleen Zellner gives her opening statements Monday in the Cole County Division I courtroom. An evidentiary hearing is being held to consider his alleged innocence in the 2001 murder of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.

Convicted murderer Ryan Ferguson’s attorney Kathleen Zellner gives her opening statements Monday in the Cole County Division I courtroom. An evidentiary hearing is being held to consider his alleged innocence in the 2001 murder of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt. Photo by The Associated Press.

Ryan Ferguson’s latest bid to be released from prison — and from his 2005 conviction of killing Columbia Daily Tribune newspaper sports editor Kent Heitholt in 2001 — began Monday morning in a packed Cole County courtroom.

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In a case being followed by two national television networks, more than 80 people crowded into the main courtroom Monday morning for the first of what could be five days of testimony and evidence being presented to Judge Daniel Green.

Because Ferguson is being held in the Jefferson City Correctional Center, his lawsuit had to be filed in Cole County, and was assigned to Green — who eventually must decide if Ferguson has proved he should get a new trial, or be released because he’s been imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.

“Ryan Ferguson is actually innocent of the murder of Kent Heitholt,” his attorney, Kathleen Zellner of Downer’s Grove, Ill., told Green at the beginning of Monday’s hearing. “The sole evidence tying Mr. Ferguson to the crime was Chuck Erickson and Jerry Trump.”

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