Judge rules on claims in Ryan Ferguson civil case, trial delayed

1 year 10 months 1 week ago August 18, 2015 Aug 18, 2015 Tuesday, August 18 2015 Tuesday, August 18, 2015 11:39:00 AM CDT in News
By: Matt Johnson, KOMU 8 Content Manager

KANSAS CITY - The United States Court for the Western District of Missouri was set to hear pre-trial motions Tuesday in the civil case Ryan Ferguson and his attorney filed against several Columbia Police officers. Ferguson, who was convicted in 2005 of murdering Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt in 2001, later had his conviction overturned in 2013.

Tuesday's pre-trial conference was delayed after a judge's order Aug. 14 which ruled in favor of the defense on one of Ferguson's two due process claims. The judge ruled in the defense's favor in part on a second due process claim. Due process is the state's legal requirement to respect the rights of citizens. The defense filed an appeal Monday on the portion of the due process claim the judge did not rule on, citing one of the defendants should have immunity as a state official.

The judge did not rule on the four other counts against officers, meaning the case will likely go to trial. The defendants have been pushing to settle the case while Ferguson and his attorneys have been pushing to take the case to trial. 

The judge's order for jury trial includes the counts against officers of fabrication of evidence, reckless investigation, malicious prosecution, conspiracy and false arrest. A trial date has not been set on those claims. The original trial date was set for Aug. 24.

Ferguson claims police failed to properly investigate evidence in their investigation of Hietholt's murder, including the potential involvement of then-Tribune sports writer Michael Boyd. It also alleges police officers fed information about the murder to Charles Erickson, who was with Ferguson the night of the murder. The lawsuit claims Ryan Ferguson was arrested on March 10, 2004 on "fabricated evidence."

The lawsuit originally named both the city of Columbia and Boone County. A judge dismissed both from the lawsuit in April 2014, but Ferguson's attorney Kathleen Zellner filed paperwork to have the city added back to the lawsuit. The city was voluntarily dismissed from the lawsuit in September 2014.

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