Convicted killer Ryan Ferguson takes case to court of appeals

Ferguson maintains his innocence in 2001 murder of Kent Heitholt

Convicted killer Ryan Ferguson takes case to the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals

COLUMBIA, Mo. - After spending nearly a decade behind bars, Ryan Ferguson's fate is in the hands of the Western District Court of Appeals in Kansas City, Mo.

The appellate court heard arguments from both the state and Ferguson's defense team Tuesday.

Ferguson, 28, and his friend, Charles Erickson, were both charged with robbing and killing Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt as he left work on Halloween night 2001.

Erickson accepted a plea deal and testified that he and Ferguson committed the crime together for drinking money.

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

He has maintained his innocence the entire time.

His attorney, Kathleen Zellner, says there is no physical evidence connecting Ferguson to the crime.

In January, Ferguson's legal team filed a writ of habeas corpus, meaning his team believes he is being held on insufficient evidence.

"This was a case that was built on the testimony of two eyewitnesses and they both admitted perjury at Ryan Ferguson's trial," Zellner told ABC News. "So there's no evidence left."

The only evidence linking Ferguson to the murder were the testimonies of Erickson and a janitor, Jerry Trump, who testified he saw Ferguson at the murder scene.

Erickson later recanted his story and in April 2012, Trump told a Cole County court that he lied as well. Trump said he had been pressured to identify Ferguson as the killer.

During Tuesday's hearing, attorneys received 15 minutes to argue Ferguson's case then the state's attorneys argued their side for 15 minutes. Ferguson's legal team then got a five minute rebuttal.

The judges heard about the witnesses recanting their testimonies as well as Brady violations, where the prosecution doesn't provide information to the defense before trial.

Both Zellner and Ferguson's father, Bill Ferguson, told ABC 17 News Tuesday that they are extremely encouraged by the judge's knowledge of the case and the line of questioning during Tuesday's oral arguments.

"The judges came in prepared and asked good questions of the attorney general who wasn't prepared to give good, valid answers," said Bill Ferguson. "I'd say it was a bad day for the attorney general and a good day for Ryan."

Depending on the outcome from the Western District Court of Appeals, Ferguson could be granted a bail amount. That means he could walk out of prison within weeks.

Support to free Ferguson has gained momentum in recent years. Currently, there are more than 56,000 followers of the "Free Ryan Ferguson" Facebook page.

His case has also garnered national attention, with several network television specials.

Ferguson's father is also planning to tour in a vehicle wrapped with Ryan's photo and the slogan "Wrongfully Convicted. Time for Justice." to spread awareness.

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