Mo. court overturns conviction in 2001 slaying

Ferguson attorney wants him released on bond

In this combination of undated file photos is Ryan Ferguson, left, and Kent Heitholt, right. A Missouri appeals court panel on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, overturned the murder conviction of a Ferguson who has been serving a 40-year sentence for the 2001 slaying of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Heitholt.

In this combination of undated file photos is Ryan Ferguson, left, and Kent Heitholt, right. A Missouri appeals court panel on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, overturned the murder conviction of a Ferguson who has been serving a 40-year sentence for the 2001 slaying of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Heitholt. Photo by The Associated Press.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — An attorney for Ryan Ferguson plans to seek his immediate release following an appeals court ruling overturning his murder conviction for the 2001 slaying of a central Missouri journalist.

An appeals court panel ruled Tuesday that prosecutors wrongly withheld evidence from defense attorneys before Ferguson’s 2005 trial for the killing of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.

Consequently, the appeals panel said Ferguson didn’t get a fair trial.

Ferguson is represented by Chicago attorney Kathleen Zellner. She says her office plans to file a motion seeking Ferguson’s release on bond pending a decision on whether to retry him.

The Missouri Court of Appeals’ Western District gave prosecutors 15 days after its order becomes final to decide whether to retry Ferguson, or else release him.

EARLIER COVERAGE

A three-judge writ panel of the Missouri Appeals Court's Kansas City division this morning ordered Ryan Ferguson to be freed from prison, unless the state takes the case back to trial.

Ferguson was convicted in 2005 of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery for the Nov. 1, 2001, murder of Kent Heitholt, the Columbia Daily Tribune's sports editor.

Chuck Erickson is serving a 25-year sentence after pleading guilty to the charges.

But Ferguson was sentenced to a total of 40 years in prison.

He sued Jefferson City Correctional Center Superintendent David Dormire for his freedom, but Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green last year ruled Erickson and janitor Jerry Trump were more credible in their original trial testimony than they were in the hearing before Green in April 2012.

In a 54-page opinion, the three-judge panel ruled Ferguson had shown enough evidence to get a new trial.

By DAVID A. LIEB, Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri appeals court panel on Tuesday overturned the murder conviction of a Columbia man who has been serving a 40-year sentence for the 2001 slaying of a newspaper sports editor.

The appeals court ruled that the prosecution withheld evidence from defense attorneys for Ryan Ferguson that could have aided him during his trial. Specifically, the court said prosecutors should have shared evidence from an interview with the wife of one of the prosecution’s key witnesses that could have raised questions about his ability to identify Ferguson.

Ferguson, who was a high school student at the time of the slaying, was convicted in the strangling and beating death of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt in the newspaper’s parking lot. The conviction came after a classmate, Chuck Erickson, came forward to confess that he had memories — some from his dreams — that he and Ferguson killed Heitholt during a robbery after running out of money at a nearby nightclub.

Erickson received a 25-year sentence as part of a plea agreement for testifying against Ferguson but has since recanted his testimony.

Another trial witness, former Tribune janitor Jerry Trump, also has recanted testimony in which he identified Ferguson and Erickson as the two men he saw in the Tribune parking lot the night of the slaying.

Trump originally had testified that, while he was in prison for an unrelated reason, his wife had sent him a Tribune newspaper that had pictures of Ferguson and Erickson in it — and that he recognized them as the people he saw the night of the slaying in the newspapers’ parking lot.

The appeals court said an investigator for the prosecutor’s office had interviewed Trump’s wife, Barbara Trump, who said she did not recall sending her husband a newspaper. The court said the investigator never wrote a report about the interview, so the information never was shared with Ferguson’s defense attorneys, but should have been.

The Western District appeals court said Ferguson should be released if prosecutors have not filed notice of a retrial within 15 days.

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