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Father Fights for Eyewitness Testimony Measure

Hannah Battah
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX/Capitol Bureau) - The father of a man exonerated for murder waited at the Capitol for a senate committee hearing that never happened.

Ryan Ferguson’s father intended to testify at the Capitol Monday in favor of a measure to change eyewitness testimony procedures, like those which helped put his son behind bars.

Instead, he spoke briefly to reporters after the Senate Judiciary canceled the hearing from a gun rights filibuster, which continued into the late hours.

Ryan Ferguson was convicted of murder after former friend Charles Erickson said he experienced “dream-like” memories of committing the crime. He served nearly a decade of his sentence before he was freed in November 2013.

Under the bill, law enforcement agencies that use eyewitness identification procedures would have to adopt written policies. It would also require courts to inform the trial jury of any “factors in the particular case that might raise the risk of a mis-identification” from an eyewitness.

Ferguson’s father said Erickson was manipulated by the Columbia Police Department to admit to the murder of Columbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heithold.

“They spoon-fed Erickson information and based that on other false police reports that the Columbia Police generated to make him think that he committed a crime, which he didn’t,” Ferguson said.

In 2012, Erickson said in court that he lied, as well as the janitor who initially placed Ferguson at the scene of the crime.

Ferguson said he hopes his son’s story will help free others who have been wrongfully convicted– starting with Erikson– who remains behind bars.

“Well once we got involved in Ryan’s case then we realized there were many other people in similar situations. We’d feel that it’d be horrible if we didn’t help people that we were convinced that were innocent,” Ferguson said. “That should never happen anywhere in the world, let alone Columbia Missouri in the United States.”

Ryan Ferguson declined to speak with reporters about the measure or his case.

Other provisions of the bill require law enforcement officers to record all interrogations. Current law states interrogations must only be recorded when “feasible.” It also mandates all biological evidence of a first degree murder investigation be retained until either 20 years after the offender has been executed or upon being found innocent.

The Senate Judiciary committee has not yet scheduled another meeting.

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