Ryan Ferguson’s attorney files $100M civil lawsuit

By Brandie Piper

COLUMBIA, Mo. – On the 10th anniversary of his arrest for murder, Ryan Ferguson’s attorney has filed a $100 million civil lawsuit against the officials who put him behind bars.

Kathleen Zellner, attorney for Ryan Ferguson, has filed the suit against 12 defendants, claiming destruction and/or suppression of exculpatory evidence, fabrication of evidence, reckless or intentional failure to investigate, malicious prosecution, conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights, failure to intervene, false arrest, defamation, and indemnification. The lawsuit cites two interviews, one with the Kansas City Star, and the other with ABC 17 News in Columbia as examples of former Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Crane and former police Chief Randy Boehm’s defamation of Ferguson.

The following people are named as defendants in the lawsuit: Det. John Short, Det. Jeff Nichols, Det. Jeff Westbrook, Det. Bryan Liebhart, Det. Latisha Stroer, Det. Lloyd Simons, and Sgt. Stephen Monitcelli with the Columbia Police Department; Randy Boehm, former chief of police for the Columbia Police Department; the City of Columbia, Mo.; William Haws, investigator for the Boone County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office; Ben White, investigator for the Boone County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office; Judge Kevin Crane, former Boone County prosecuting attorney; and Boone County. The entire lawsuit can be read below this story.

Ferguson was released from prison Nov. 12, just hours after Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced the state would not re-try him for the murder ofColumbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.

Heitholt was killed around 2:20 a.m. Nov. 1, 2001 in the parking lot of the Columbia Tribune. Janitors Shawna Ornt and Jerry Trump told police they saw shadows of two people standing near Heitholt’s vehicle. One of the men walked over and spoke to Ornt before leaving. Trump told police he could not clearly see the face of either man. Ornt was described by police as the “sole witness” to the crime.

Ferguson, then 17-years-old, was at a nearby bar with his classmate, Chuck Erickson.

Two and a half years after the murder, Erickson told a friend he had a dream he and Ferguson committed the murder. Erickson was questioned by police a short time later, but did not know details of the crime, including what was used to kill Heitholt.

Ferguson, now 19-years-old, was brought in for questioning. He told police he left the bar around 1:15 a.m., took Erickson home, went home and sat outside talking on the phone before going inside to go to sleep.

In 2005 Ferguson was convicted of second-degree murder and robbery. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Trump, the janitor who originally told police he did not clearly see either suspect’s face, testified at Ferguson’s 2005 trial that he saw Ferguson at the crime scene, contradicting what he originally told officers the night of the murder.

During an appeals hearing in July 2008, Ornt testified she told then-Prosecutor Crane the man she saw near Heitholt’s car was not Ferguson. She said Crane tried to get her to say she saw Ferguson the night of the murder on three occasions, and that he became threatening during his last conversation with her.

Zellner took Ferguson’s case in 2009 pro bono. A short time later Erickson came forward, saying he lied under oath. Trump, the janitor whose story changed when the case went to trial, also confessed to lying under oath, and said he was coerced by Crane, who told him it would be beneficial to him if he could place Ferguson at the crime scene.

In October 2012 Cole County Judge Dan Green declined to give Ferguson a new trial, but said he believes that Trump lied under oath during the original trial.

The case was taken to a Missouri appeals court, and Ferguson’s conviction was overturned Nov. 5, 2013. He spent nine years, eight months, and two days behind bars.

Since his release from prison, Ferguson has become active on social media, starting a Twitter page (@lifeafterten) and taking over the “Free Ryan Ferguson” Facebook page, which is now called “Freed Ryan Ferguson.”

The lawsuit seeks $75 million in compensatory and actual damages and $25 million in punitive damages.

Published March 11, 2014 on KSDK.com.

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