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Ryan Ferguson files lawsuit against Columbia

Ryan Ferguson’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner filed a civil suit against several investigators involved in the 2001 murder of sports editor Kent Heitholt.

It was filed Monday, on the tenth anniversary of Ferguson’s arrest.

The suit named the city of Columbia, Boone County, former Boone County prosecutor Kevin Crane, former Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm, and six Columbia police detectives.

Ferguson and Zellner asked for $75 million in actual damages, $25 million in punitive damages, according to the 50 page document.

“I think that puts taxpayers in a bad situation and they didn’t create that situation,” Ferguson’s father Bill told ABC 17 News on Tuesday. “(Former prosecutor) Kevin Crane created the situation, he’s the one who should be responsible.”

ABC 17 News has reached out to Crane’s office, the city of Columbia law office and former police chief Randy Boehm. Boehm responded noting that he could not comment on pending litigation.

“They’re looking ultimately to the deep pockets and the deep pockets would be the city and county,” said University of Missouri law professor Rodney Uphoff Tuesday. “That’s probably their biggest hurdle.”

Documents showed the lawsuit “seeks to hold accountable the named defendants for their abuse of power in manipulating our justice system to convict Ryan, an innocent man, and in so doing ensure freedom for a guilty man, the real murderer of Kent Heitholt.”

Nine counts mentioned in the lawsuit range from defamation (by Boehm and Crane) to reckless failure to investigate to false arrest.

The documents also brought to light some previously unreleased evidence from the crime scene. For the first time publicly, Ferguson and Zellner explicitly state that former sports writer Michael Boyd was the last person at the crime scene, despite never being considered a person of interest.

“Part of their complaint alleges that (Charles) Erickson was essentially tricked – based on fabricated information – into pleading guilty,” said Uphoff. “I think that’s going to be very difficult (to prove).”

Erickson was serving time in prison for his 2004 admission to the murder of Heitholt. After his release in November, Ferguson said he would work to get Erickson out of prison, too, because he believed he was also innocent. His father echoed that on Tuesday.

“I think (this lawsuit) will go a long way to freeing him,” said Bill Ferguson.

“If I represented Charles Erickson, I would be very happy that this lawsuit was brought,” said Uphoff. “It does create the possibility of discovering information that may aid Erickson.”

Ferguson was released from the Jefferson City Correctional Center last November after the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District vacated his conviction.

He was sentenced in 2004 to 40 years in prison for the October 2001 murder of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt. The Attorney General dismissed the charges against Ferguson on November 12, 2013.

You can read the full lawsuit here.

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