A Missouri court has vacated the murder conviction of a man whose friend turned him in for murder
based on “dream-like” memoriesof the two of them committing the crime.
The victory for Ryan Ferguson, 29, comes eight years after a jury convicted him of murdering a newspaper sports editor, largely based on the testimony of Ferguson’s friend, Charles Erickson.
Columbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt was beaten and strangled to death in the newspaper parking lot on Halloween night of 2001.
In October 2003, Erickson began reading articles about Heitholt’s unsolved murder, according to the state appeals court opinion issued Tuesday. He and Ferguson had been drinking the night of the murder, and Erickson drank so much he blacked out.
After reading about the murder years later, Erickson began having “dream-like” memories that he and Ferguson had killed Heitholt. Ferguson told him they had nothing to do with the crime, but Erickson revealed his “dream-like” memories to his friends anyway. One of those friends turned him in to police, and Erickson eventually confessed. He testified against his friend in exchange for a lighter sentence.
In overturning Ferguson’s sentence, the appeals court rejected Erickson’s “dream-like” memories as sufficient evidence to convict his friend. The court also rejected the “eyewitness testimony” of Jerry Trump, one of two custodians who found Heitholt’s body. Trump initially told police he spotted two men at the crime scene but couldn’t describe them.
After the murder, Trump went to prison for an unrelated crime. He says his wife sent him a newspaper in prison with pictures of Ferguson and Erickson, making him have the “sudden realisation” they were the men he saw the night of the murder. Trump’s wife told a prosecutor later that she never sent him the newspaper. However, the prosecution never turned that favourable evidence over the to the defence, as required by law.
Here were some of the appeals court’s more salient conclusions:
This was not an ordinary case. No physical evidence tied Erickson or Ferguson to Mr. Heitholt’s murder or the crime scene. Physical evidence found at the scene did not match to either Erickson or Ferguson as the source. Besides Trump, no other eyewitness placed Ferguson or Erickson at the scene. Erickson’s confession, which originated from “dream like” memories, was seriously challenged by Ferguson at trial. Ferguson emphasised police interrogation tactics which cast doubt on whether Erickson’s memories were genuine or suggested by the police.
The state has 15 days to decide whether it wants to try Ferguson again, in which case he could have to stay in jail before his trial. In a handwritten statement posted by the Los Angeles Times, Ferguson wrote, “Look forward to sitting at the Thanksgiving table with my family if justice permits.”
It’s not clear whether Erickson will seek a new trial.
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