Families React to Ferguson Verdict

1 decade 3 years 4 months ago Monday, October 24 2005 Oct 24, 2005 Monday, October 24, 2005 9:52:50 PM CDT October 24, 2005 in News

Ferguson's mother made a final plea for his innocence.

"I don't even know how to respond because I know he's innocent. And I believe very strongly in his innocence," Leslie Ferguson said.

Innocence Ferguson's father said lies in the lack of the prosecution's evidence.

"He just turned 21 here in court. He had a great future ahead of him. He graduated from high school early. He was an Eagle Scout and he was my best friend," said Bill Ferguson, the defendant's father.

Kevin Crane, the prosecutor, urged the jury to not only convict Ferguson, but also recommend the maximum sentence.

"Ladies and gentleman, the maximum, that's what he deserves," Crane said.

A sentence that will never bring Kent Heitholt home.

"I need to let you know how wonderful my husband was. When he died, I remember telling the police officers I just didn't want him to be afraid and I didn't want him to be in pain," said Deborah Evangelista, Heitholt's widow.

However, there is pain on both sides. The Ferguson's feel a 40 year prison sentence will tear their family apart.

"It's going to be very difficult and if he gets the jail sentence I'm hearing, I'll never live long enough to see him outside jail," Ferguson's father said.

But Crane said Ferguson's background and family are not an excuse to escape punishment.

"Obviously Ryan Ferguson has a mom and dad that love him. He had a good life, a privileged life. But he should receive the same punishment for a crime of this nature as anyone else," Crane said.

The jury deliberated nearly six hours Friday. A key moment for those waiting in the courthouse came when the jury asked the difference between first and second degree murder. The Heitholts and Fergusons reacted to the jury's decision as they left late Friday night.

"In my heart I do believe Ryan Ferguson did do this crime," said Kali Heitholt, Kent Heitholt's daughter.

Ferguson's father felt his son's innocence was obvious.

"You cannot overcome an emotional situation. They didn't look at the facts. Any of you would've looked at the facts and said, wait a second how could you have a bloody crime like that and not have any DNA evidence in the car," Bill Ferguson said.

Ryan Ferguson's former classmate Chuck Erickson, who confessed to murdering Heitholt, was the only witness to tie Ferguson directly to the crime scene. Crane says Erickson's testimony was enough to convict Ferguson, but admits the case lacked physical evidence.

"Well it would've been an easier case if I had some. That's an issue that I started talking to the jury about in jury selection. I said let me be up front with you, we don't have it. We put into evidence some reasons that was the case, and frankly in most cases you don't have physical evidence," Crane said.

Ferguson's attorney blames himself for the conviction.

"I haven't started to second guess myself yet. I'm sure I will at some point. It's not Ryan's fault because he didn't do anything wrong. I was obviously unable to communicate well enough the injustice of this conviction," Charlie Rogers said.

Rogers and the Ferguson family both say they aren't ending their battle to free Ferguson.

"We intend to ask for a new trial. If we don't get a new trial, we'll appeal." Rogers said.

The judge will make the final decision on Ferguson's sentence.

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