The prosecutor would never have tried to manipulate witnesses. It would have jeopardized his career. The convictions had been obtained on the basis of genuine evidence.
The conviction was quite an accomplishment. The murder case had gone unsolved since 2001, and the conviction four years later helped make careers. Kent Heitholt was a popular sports editor for the local Columbia Tribune when, after working late, he walked into the Tribune parking lot and had his life ended. The years without a conviction, without a suspect, had to have meant pressure.
Kevin Crane was no stranger to elective politics. He had been elected and re-elected as Prosecuting attorney in Boone County for a dozen years. Two years after convicting a confessed murderer and his accomplice, putting them behind bars, he finally moved on up, elected by grateful voters as Boone County Circuit Court Judge.
The confession came after long interrogation of a kid, Charles Erickson, who had told acquaintances of disturbing dreams of the murder. He wondered, at first, if maybe he had been involved. When pressed, he also gave up his friend, Ryan Ferguson. The confession was backed up by testimony of a witness. The witness placed the two boys at the scene of the crime at the time of the murder.
Case closed. Murderers locked up. Heroic prosecutor elected Judge. Time to move on.
Not so fast.
The case has since attracted national television coverage. The unexpected attention has come, not because of the country's appreciation of a job well done, the removal of two murderers from our midst. It came because the case later started to unravel. Growing doubts about the conduct of the case present the possibility that the two teenagers, now in their mid-twenties, were innocent.
Last week, the evidence was reviewed at a hearing. The testimony was dramatic.
The kid who had confessed has changed his story several times. He was habitually high and had been drinking and using cocaine, blacking out the night of the crime. He said that, at first, he had no memory of what happened. He could tell police only of the dreams he had after reading press accounts of the murder. Interrogation clarified things for him. His dreams went to uncertainty, to getting key details wrong, to getting a lot of them right, to absolute certainty. At the trial, he said his friend killed the victim. Later he said he killed him, and his friend merely watched. Then he said he didn't remember anything at all.
Last week he testified that he had been intimidated by the zealous prosecutor. Police had convinced him that he had committed the murder. They were impatient with his anxious attempts to get the details right.
Video shows his surprise when told how the victim had been killed. He got a key description of a passerby wrong in exactly the same way that a police officer got it wrong during the initial investigation. He said the two had stolen a wallet that was not stolen. He got timelines and movements wrong, telling police he and his friend had gone into a bar after the murder. The place had actually closed hours earlier.
He said last week in court that he was told by the prosecutor, future Judge Kevin Crane, that he could be charged with first degree murder. He was a kid, and he didn't know that a seventeen year old could not be executed. To him, first degree murder meant the death sentence. The prosecutor was in no mood to clarify the law. The boy confessed, he now said, partly to get the charged reduced so he would not die. He gave up his friend Ryan so he would get a reduced sentence.
The witness was a janitor. Jerry Trump had told the jury back in 2005 that he had seen the two young men at the scene. He positively identified them. He said last week that he gave that testimony hoping for leniency for himself. He was in trouble with the law. He said he was shown a photograph of Ryan Ferguson, one of the accused, and told by the prosecutor, future Judge Kevin Crane, that "it would be helpful" if he could identify him in court. He didn't tell him to lie. He didn't order him to say anything in particular. He just told him, according to the janitor, that "it would be helpful" if his testimony was a positive identification.
Jerry Trump, the janitor, wept on the stand. He cried as he told the court, "I’d like to have forgiveness from Ryan and his family." He flatly said that he had lied, telling the story that the prosecutor wanted him to say. "My testimony was false."
Ryan Ferguson, the accused accomplice, and his family have maintained over the years that the conviction came partly as a result of a stacked deck, a prosecutor who pushed more than a little too hard to get the testimony he wanted. A kid who didn't know the law and wasn't sure whether he really had done something wrong during a drug-induced blackout, wanted to escape execution. A witness in trouble with the law was told "it would be helpful" if his testimony came out a certain way.
On Thursday the one time prosecutor, the since elected Judge, the Honorable Kevin Crane, testified. "The death penalty was never in play," he said. As to Jerry Trump, the janitor, Crane said he never would have told him to lie in the stand. "Risk my entire career and maybe go to prison by perjuring myself with a guy who just got out of prison that I had never met before?" He denied the accusation of influencing the witness. "I never told any witness what to say or what to testify to."
It was an interesting week.
With the family, the druggie who confessed, and the witness all pointing to a prosecutor more interested in his career than in justice.
And the once-prosecutor-now-Judge who, curiously, testified that his concern was to avoid damaging his career.
It has been quite some time since we've sent out an update. Many of you keep up with what is going on in Ryan's case through Facebook, local news reports or the freeryanferguson website. As you probably know Ryan's 5 day habeas evidentiary hearing took place last week in Cole county. Ryan's attorney, Kathleen Zellner, presented many witnesses. The only two people to testify against Ryan during his 2005 trial (Chuck Erickson & Jerry Trump) have recanted their previous testimony and admitted they lied on the stand. Both also testified during last weeks hearing that Kevin Crane, the prosecutor at that time, aided and abetted in their fabricated testimony. Jerry Trump has everything to lose and nothing to gain by this admission. His testimony was very emotional. Not only did he cry but he also asked Ryan for forgiveness.
It is evident from the state's stance during Ryan's hearing that the prosecution is not interested in the truth nor are they interested in justice. They see it as their sole purpose to keep Ryan where he is and continue to perpetuate the lies that this case has been built upon. It was interesting to see them argue their case with nothing to back it up!
We feel very optimistic that the judge will rule in Ryan's favor. Each side will present their written summaries to Judge Green by June 15. Once he has these he can make his decision. He indicated that he would rule quickly. If that is the case, we could have a decision by mid to late July! There is not one shred of evidence or one witness that shows Ryan had anything to do with this crime. Our heart aches for the Heitholt family who has been deceived by the prosecution all these years. We wonder when they will finally see true justice for Kent.
Below we have included 3 links to YouTube videos which include Jerry Trump's and Chuck Erickson's testimony in last week's hearing to help you better understand the significance of the recantation of these two important witnesses.
Again, we want to thank each of you for your continued support in our on-going fight for justice.
Jerry Trump Admits he committed Perjury during Ryan Ferguson’s 2005 Trial
Kevin Crane, Judge/Prosecutor, caught in a BIG LIE!
Charles Erickson 2012 Habeas Hearing Testimony
Charles Erickson’s Interrogation One Hour After His Arrest
This video supports Erickson’s April 2012 Testimony that he does not remember what happen that night.
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