The following opinion by Bruce Fisher was published by GroundReport.com on March 26, 2014.
Columbia Tribune Sports Editor Kent Heitholt was brutally murdered on November 1, 2001, in Columbia, Missouri. Heitholt was attacked in the Tribune parking lot as he left work. His body was discovered next to his car. Heitholt had been struck from behind sustaining multiple head injuries and was strangled with his own belt. Fellow Tribune employee Michael Boyd was the last person to see Heitholt alive. Boyd claims that he met up with Heitholt briefly in the parking lot before driving away at around 2:20 AM. Police had no solid leads in the first 2 ½ years of the investigation.
In late 2003, Charles Erickson read an article published by the Columbia Tribune discussing the unsolved murder of Kent Heitholt. Unfortunately, Charles and his friends partied too hard that Halloween night, leaving Charles with no recollection of his actions at the time of the murder. It has been reported that party-goers, including Charles, were experimenting with Adderall, cocaine, and alcohol at a party that was broken up by police. Charles left that party and ended up catching a ride with Ryan Ferguson to the “By George” bar near the scene of the crime. When browsing through news reports, Charles feared that he resembled a composite sketch released by police. Knowing only that he was at a bar near the scene that night, caused him to worry that he might be involved.
Over a period of time, Charles began telling friends that he had a dream, leading him to think that he and Ryan Ferguson may have been involved in the murder. One of the friends that Charles spoke to called Crimestoppers with a tip and another friend would later call the police, leading Charles to find himself in an interrogation room trying to answer questions about a murder that he had nothing to do with.
At the time of his interrogation, Charles was very confused about the events that took place that night. When viewing his interrogation video, it is clear that Charles knows very little about the crime. The detectives spoon-feed Charles unreported details of the case, and pressure him into providing a false confession while implicating Ryan in the process.
Coming from a family with a history in law enforcement, Charles thought he could trust the police officers that were interrogating him. Unfortunately Charles was misled, causing him to plead guilty to the crime and provide false testimony against Ryan Ferguson in return for a reduced sentence. Ryan was wrongfully convicted in 2005, and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Investigators used extremely poor judgment when making the decision to extract a false confession out of a young man that was in no position to give a proper statement. Charles must not be held accountable for the egregious misconduct of the police investigating the Heitholt murder. Charles must not continue to be punished for a murder he did not commit. The Heitholt family deserves justice. The continued incarceration of Charles Erickson brings no justice and no real closure for the family of the victim.
When given the opportunity, Charles recanted his statements implicating him and Ryan Ferguson, and he has done everything in his power to help set the record straight, not only for Ryan, but also for the Heitholt family.
Thankfully, Ryan Ferguson was finally freed on November 12, 2013, after serving nearly ten years in prison. Charles Erickson remains wrongfully convicted, and is currently serving a 25 year prison sentence.
Ryan Ferguson’s attorney Kathleen Zellner recently filed a civil rights lawsuit seeking $100 million in damages for the wrongful conviction of her client. Zellner’s 50 page report details the egregious police misconduct that resulted in two innocent people being wrongfully convicted.
It is now blatantly obvious that Charles Erickson had absolutely nothing to do with the murder of Kent Heitholt. Proving Ryan Ferguson’s innocence also proves Charles’s innocence. Anyone that supports Ryan Ferguson, based on the facts of this case, should support the release of Charles Erickson.
This case continues to highlight the terribly flawed Missouri justice system. It is time for the nonsense to end. It is time to free Charles Erickson.
Charles Erickson is now being represented by Attorney Laura O’Sullivan, a professor at University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law, and Senior Counsel with the Midwest Innocence Project. O’Sullivan voiced strong support for her client shortly after Ryan Ferguson’s release:
“Charles Erickson is relieved and overjoyed that Ryan Ferguson was released. Charles Erickson is a victim of the system. I will fight diligently and relentlessly for his release. Fifty percent justice is not enough, half the story won’t do. We need to finish the job of finding justice, justice for Charles Erickson, and ultimately, the Heitholt family”
A 48 Hours segment on the case, including an interview of Charles with Erin Moriarty is scheduled for March 29, 2014. Please be sure to check your local listings.
A new website has been created by Injustice Anywhere to help bring more attention to the Charles Erickson case. Please visit FreeCharlesErickson.org to learn more about this case.
You can also keep up to date with current events on the Free Charles Erickson Facebook page.