Ferguson Found Guilty of 2nd Degree Murder
Jurors came back with a guilty verdict after more than five hours of deliberating. The defense and prosecution made closing arguments Friday afternoon at the Boone County Courthouse, arguments about who killed Columbia Tribune Sports editor Kent Heitholt. The jurors deliberated for close to five hours in determining the fate of Ryan Ferguson.
Their decision: guilty of second degree murder and guilty of first degree robbery.
Immediately after the verdict, the jury started work on the sentencing. After 40 minutes of deliberating, they decided on 30 years for murder and another 10 for the robbery.
The main argument between both sides was whether confessed killer and Ferguson's former classmate lied. Charles Erickson was the prosecution's star witness and he says he and Ferguson murdered Heitholt four years ago.
The defense says the prosecution couldn't get anyone else to testify beside Erickson that Ferguson killed Heitholt.
"The assault as described by Charles Erickson is not born out by the physical evidence, the blood stain pattern analysis," said Ferguson defense attorney Charlie Rogers, "Never had it suggested that Ryan ferguson carried that belt and jerked it up and held it there long enough to break his neck and strangle him. Nobody ever suggested that, and that is the essence of this case," said Rogers.
Today prior to closing arguments the defense's star witness took the stand. The defense used psychologist, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, to try and convince the jury that Charles Erickson made everything up, with the help of Columbia Police interrogators.
"If you conduct interviews that suggest details in the course of interviews that witnesses will often pick up on those details and claim them as their own memory," said Loftus.
She also said tricky questions and pressure by police could have made Erickson believe almost anything.
"Mr. Erickson did receive pressure during at least one interview that day," Loftus pointed out when police asked Erickson about the Tribune janitor.
"When the detective tells Mr. Erickson here is what the cleaning lady said the person said go get help. Later on if Mr. Erickson remembers this he can be remembering it because he was told it during a prior interview," Loftus said.
"I certainly saw evidence of repeated suggestion in the sense that repeatedly details are being introduced into the interview that are coming not from Mr. Erickson, but from the person who is doing the interviewing and then later on Mr. Erickson's testimony or recollection or whatever you want to call it changes," alleged Loftus.
The heat turned up when the prosecution had its turn with Loftus. Mostly attacking her credibility."You're billing for your services here today...Is that correct?"
"Well I do expect to be compensated for my time, yes," said Loftus.
"You don't work for free?" Crane.
"Well sometimes I do take pro bono cases," said Loftus.
"Are you working for free?" Crane
"Not in this case," said Loftus.
"And what is your rate? How do you bill?" asked Crane.
Loftus avoided the question, but finally answered. "About $11,000."
She has worked on more than 250 cases... And only one was for the prosecution.
The prosecution maintains Erickson wouldn't lie to go to jail for 25 years.
The defense said there was not enough DNA evidence to convict Ferguson.
Evidence that the jury considered :
The prosecution began its case Monday with testimony from their star witness Charles Erickson who says he and Ferguson killed Heitholt.
They followed with two janitors taking the stand. One says they saw Erickson and Ferguson standing over Heitholt's dead body, another says Erickson shouted to her for help.
Ferguson testified on Thursday in his own defense and said he had nothing to do with Heitholt's death.
Ferguson's testimony was followed by his sister's who also said her brother had nothing to do with Heitholt's death.
The jury mainly had to rely on witness testimony due to a lack of physical evidence.