Attorneys for Charles Erickson filed an appeal Tuesday asking a court to let him out of prison.
“This petition was a very long time coming," Landon Magnusson, Erickson's attorney, said. "We are very excited to have another chance at obtaining justice for Charles Erickson after sixteen years in prison as an innocent man."
Erickson was sentenced to 25 years in prison after confessing to the Nov. 1, 2001, murder of Columbia Daily Tribune Sports Editor Kent Heitholt.
He filed his first petition to get out of prison in Pike County Circuit Court in December 2018. The Pike County Circuit Court denied that petition in April 2019. Judge Milan Berry said that Erickson "freely, knowingly and voluntarily" pleaded guilty in 2004 to the crimes, and did not raise an issue with plea at the time.
In Tuesday's appeal, attorneys argued that Erickson should not be in prison because he is innocent, his guilty plea was not voluntarily or knowingly made and because police and prosecutors withheld and fabricated evidence.
Court documents claim Erickson, who was a teenager at the time of the arrest in March 2004, suffered from several psychological and cognitive disorders and that he was vulnerable to coercion by police and prosecutors.
Ryan Ferguson was arrested along with Erickson. Despite maintaining his innocence from the beginning, Ferguson was convicted of second-degree murder. Erickson’s testimony at trial played a large role in the conviction because there was no physical evidence tying the two to the crime.
Erickson told police and prosecutors that he and Ferguson attacked Heitholt, who was strangled to death, because they had run out of money while out partying and wanted more cash.
According to court documents, police and prosecutors "persisted in applying significant psychological pressure on Charles to coerce him into pleading guilty and testifying against Ryan. They employed three methods: bombarding Charles with false reports confirming his false memories; withholding important exculpatory evidence from Charles that would have contradicted the police’s narrative; and, working to maximize Charles’ view of his legal jeopardy."
Erickson's attorney also filed a motion for an expedited scheduled for the appeal because of COVID-19. Court documents said "...Erickson's continued wrongful imprisonment during the COVID-19 pandemic violates his rights by exposing him to disease and placing his life in danger."
Erickson is currently detained at the Boonville Correctional Center.