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Plans to tear down old Cole County jail and sheriff's house move forward April 16, 2014

Friend testifies for man convicted in Columbia slaying

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A central Missouri man seeking to overturn his conviction of in the 2001 murder of a newspaper sports editor is getting support from a high school friend.

A Cole County judge is hearing testimony on whether to set aside the conviction and 40-year sentence of Ryan Ferguson for the slaying of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.

In court Thursday, Kimberly Bennett testified that she saw Ryan Ferguson and his convicted accomplice Chuck Erickson leave a Columbia nightclub near the newspaper office around 1:30 a.m. and drive away.

Former newspaper sports writer Michael Boyd testified Thursday that he talked with Heitholt in the newspaper parking lot and left about 2:20 a.m. as it appeared Heitholt was getting into his car. Heitholt was found dead shortly afterward.

Also, the judge in Ferguson's case denies telling witnesses what they needed to say when he was a prosecutor pursuing a conviction in the 2001 murder of a newspaper editor.

Boone County Circuit Judge Kevin Crane was testifying Thursday.

Earlier this week, former newspaper janitor Jerry Trump testified that Crane and a Boone County investigator coached him on how to identify Ferguson and classmate Chuck Erickson as the two men he saw on the night of Heitholt’s slaying. Trump now says original testimony was a lie.

Crane said he never told Trump, or any witness, what to say.

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