In 2005, Ryan Ferguson was convicted of a crime he did not commit and his family has been fighting for his release ever since.
He was brought into this nightmare by a friend, Chuck Erickson, who Ryan was with on Halloween, the night of the Heitholt murder. Erickson, a troubled teen began telling friends he was having dreams and believed he may have been involved in the murder. The friends promptly reported these conversations to police, who promptly brought Erickson in for questioning.
In the taped interview, it is clear Erickson knows very little about the actual crime, and is fed details by the police. One of the items he was fed was that two people were involved in the murder, so Erickson identified Ferguson as his accomplice, and so the nightmare began.
The State violated Brady by withholding the Barbara Trump interview. The undisclosed interview was material, resulting in a verdict that is not worthy of confidence. Accordingly, this court grants Ferguson’s Petition for a writ of habeas corpus with respect to that portion of Claim Three addressing the undisclosed Barbara Trump interview.
As a result of our grant of habeas relief, Ferguson’s convictions are vacated.
If the State intends to retry Ferguson, it must file a written election to that effect in the Circuit Court of Boone County within fifteen days of the issuance of our mandate, in which case Ferguson shall be immediately delivered by the Missouri Department of Corrections to the custody of the Boone County Circuit Court as a pretrial detainee, permitting the circuit court to set such conditions of bond as it deems appropriate. If the State does not file a written election to retry Ferguson within fifteen days of the issuance of our mandate, then Ferguson shall be immediately and unconditionally discharged from the State’s custody.
The details of the Ferguson case and the above ruling illustrates what happens all too often in the criminal justice system when an innocent person is convicted. The reality is, once convicted the decision is almost impossible to overturn and it past time serious work is done to address a system. I applaud groups like The Constitution Project and Right on Crime for leading the charge and working on this very important issue.
On a personal note, I have covered the Ferguson case for The Brenner Brief over the past year, and was overcome with emotion when notified of the ruling. I pray the government of Missouri will choose to do what they chose not to do when they hid evidence from the defense and prosecuted Ferguson – The Right Thing – and release Ferguson immediately.
It is not lost on me that the Heitholt family is suffering, and my prayers are with them as well. I pray the person who murdered their loved one is found and prosecuted, and that they may know peace which is likely not being felt today.