Ryan W. Ferguson

By: Maverick Hale


Ryan W. Ferguson was wrongly convicted of the robbery and second-degree murder of journalist Kent Heitholt in the early 2000s. At the time of Ryan’s conviction, which was 40 years in prison, he was in his late teens. Through Ryan’s trial, two alleged witnesses testified against the man as well as evidence withholding by the prosecutors. Those testimonies convinced a jury that he was guilty but much later recanted their testimonies. Almost a decade later on November 5, 2005, Ryan’s conviction was overturned and he was free to go home.

What Happened

Local police, who pressured witnesses to wrongly convict Ferguson, arrested him in late 2004. Ferguson spent almost a decade in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. There was DNA and footprints at the crime scene that didn’t match Ferguson. His whole conviction was based a two witnesses; one was a janitor who was a sex offender and couldn’t see who was near Heitholt’s body and the other his intoxicated friend who “didn’t remember the night” and allegedly committed the murder with Ferguson. His intoxicated friend, Charles Erickson, only has suspension that he was involved due to fuzzy dreams. In 2009 attorney, Kathleen Zellner, took on Ferguson’s case working pro bono. Three years after Zellner started working the case, the two witnesses admitted to falsely accusing Ferguson of the brutal crime. On March 11. 2014 a civil suit was filed by Ferguson against 11 individuals including Boone County, Missouri and the city of Columbia in U.S, District Court. Due to the overwhelming amount of evidence of Ferguson’s innocence in his habeas petition, the Attorney General of Missouri dismissed the charges and would never retry the case.


The local government and state government were involved in this case. The trial of Ferguson included the local and eventually the state government. Although the story got an extensive amount of media coverage, the national government never commented on the issue and why would they. In this case, federalism would not of affected the situation unless the federal government wanted to retry the case even after the Attorney General of Missouri said Ferguson would never be retried.