A man who is serving a 40-year prison sentence for the killing of a Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor is asking Gov. Jay Nixon for a pardon.
Ryan Ferguson was convicted in 2005 of second-degree murder and robbery in the November 2001 death of Kent Heitholt, who was beaten and strangled in the paper's parking lot. Ferguson has always maintained his innocence and is also seeking a new trial.
Nixon has never granted a criminal pardon, according to his spokesman, Scott Holste. The Daily Tribune reports Board of Probation and Parole will investigate the case and submit a report to Nixon for his consideration.
"We've had about seven actual innocence pardons granted in Illinois," said Kathleen Zellner, Ferguson's Chicago-based attorney. "With DNA testing, there are a lot more being granted."
No DNA ties Ferguson or co-defendant Charles Erickson to the crime scene and Zellner said she is gathering new evidence about another possible suspect.
Erickson is serving a 25-year sentence for his part in the murder. As part of his plea deal, Erickson originally testified that he and Ferguson killed Heitholt. But he testified last year that he no longer recalls the night of the murder because he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol. The request for the pardon does not mention Erickson or his testimony.
Ferguson's request for a new trial was rejected in October and the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District is currently considering an appeal of that decision. The request for pardon will be based on Ferguson's current petition filed in the appellate court, Zellner said.