Time to get serious here at Remote Patrolled with a story I feel very passionately about.

I’d be the first to admit that I generally work on the more frivolous sides of TV – reality shows, makeover series, breakfast TV and the like. But from time to time I also develop and work on more serious topics.

Just under a year ago I came across the case of a guy named Ryan Ferguson via an NBC Dateline special that aired in August 2011. I was developing another crime series at the time and was tasked with checking out the episode as a basis for the show. And I can honestly say that what I saw haunted me then – and continues to haunt me now.

Ryan’s story has been widely featured in various media outlets – including the Today Show and CBS’s 48 Hour Mystery which has continued to run updates on his story. And just this last week CBS News ran another segment on Ryan’s case

This is a case that should appall you and make you want to take action. So today I want to write about Ryan’s case – what went wrong – and how you can help…

Ryan’s story is quite complex but here’s the basics.

In 2001 a local sports reporter called Kent Heitholt was murdered late at night outside his offices in Columbia, Missouri. Nothing of value was taken from Heitholt and there seemed no obvious motive. And so the case remained unsolved for the next two years.

Then in 2003 a young man named Chuck Erickson came forward, believing he was involved in the murder. Chuck had been having bad dreams in which he ‘believed’ he had murdered Heitholt, along with his friend Ryan Ferguson. According to Chuck, the two teenagers had been drinking (underage) that night at a bar across the road from the murder scene. When they ran out of money Chuck and Ryan went out looking for someone to rob, came across Kent and brutally killed him.

Ryan, by then a college student who had barely kept in touch with Chuck, was arrested and charged with murder, with his former friend testifying against him in exchange for a lighter sentence. There was also a witness called Jerry Trump who placed the two men at the scene. And so in 2005 Chuck was sentenced to 25 years in jail while Ryan received a 40-year prison sentence. Ryan was 21 years old at the time of his sentencing and had already been in jail for 2 years. He’s now been behind bars for 8 long years – and from day one has protested his innocence.

I’ll be honest when you first hear about the case it sounds plausible on the surface. Chuck’s story sounds convincing and after all why would someone confess to a crime they didn’t commit. And then there was that witness.

But then you did a little deeper – which many sources have thankfully done – and you can’t help but have questions.

First and foremost is Chuck himself. This was a kid who’s pretty much the definition of an unreliable witness! For two years Chuck didn’t remember murdering Heitholt claiming he blacked it out – that’s a pretty big event to forget wouldn’t you say – and is an admitted drug user and heavy drinker. When Chuck did come forward he barely knew any details of the murder. You watch the police interrogation tapes and you can see Erickson literally being spoon fed the details of the case by the authorities. It’s a shocking abuse of power.

There are also plenty of holes in Chuck’s story. After the murder Chuck claims he and Ryan drove around for a while and bumped into a friend – except the friend denies seeing the two teens that night. Chuck then claims the two went back to the bar to drink some more – except Heitholt was murdered after the bar itself closed. It would have been physically impossible for them to go back. Chuck also stated that he and Ryan had been drinking that night – and yet no DNA evidence was found at the scene. Yep you heard that correctly – NO DNA evidence. I personally find it hard to believe that two young teens, out drinking, could pull off a ‘perfect’ murder and not leave any clues behind. No blood, no fingerprints, nothing. Added to this is the fact that Ryan had no criminal record at the time of his arrest and came from a ‘good’ middle class family. Does this sound like the kind of person who’s going to randomly murder a person just for kicks?

Since sentencing Ryan’s case has been caught in a legal quagmire with his father Bill fighting passionately for his son’s innocence. But the legal system moves SLOW. Real slow!

Thankfully momentum is building for Ryan’s case. Fergsuon has an amazing lawyer now representing him who specialize in cases of miscarriages of justice (her name is Kathleen Zellner – I imagine her like the real life Patty Hewes!) And some pretty shocking stuff has been happening since. Chuck now claims he got it all wrong and Ryan didn’t murder Kent Heitholt after all! And that witness, Jerry Trump, well he claims he didn’t see Ryan at the scene. In fact both men claim they were coached by the prosecution into making their statements. And the lead prosecutor in the case is now a local judge. Sounds like a TV movie doesn’t it?

 At the end of the day sadly no one – except the real murderers – knows what really happened that night a decade ago. But personally I think to convict someone on so little evidence and sentence them to 40 years behind bars is just devastating. Ryan Ferguson was 19 years at the time of his arrest. If he serves his full sentence he will be 59 when he is released – his entire life basically stolen from him. I just don’t understand how this conviction can be allowed to stand on the basis of such flimsy evidence. No motive, no DNA, no plausible witnesses… just makes no sense to me. Take a look at the photo below – it shows Ryan breaking down as his father pleads for leniency. Heartbreaking isn’t it…

For the last year I’ve been writing to Ryan in jail as have many other people who have become supporters of his case. I’ve also spoken with Ryan’s dad Bill with a few suggestions on publicizing his case. That said I don’t really know the Fergusons. But I can’t believe how anyone can hear about Ryan’s case and not be touched and want to take action. As I say ‘haunted’ is the only word I can use to describe my response to this story. There’s so much about this case that just rings wrong to me. Another example? Ryan’s bail following his arrest was set at $20 million – the highest in the state’s history. Compare that to the bail set for the likes of George Zimmerman and Bernie Madoff… shocking huh?

Thankfully CBS and NBC have both been publicizing Ryan’s story and the case has received significant coverage. It’s at times like this that I’m proud to work within the TV industry and can see the good that it can do. More and more people are gradually hearing about this case…

But wait it gets even more shocking! In April this year Ryan filed a habeas corpus – which is where a judge hears new evidence in a case and decides if a new trial is justified. At this hearing both Erickson and Trump recanted their testimony – even though it opens both up to charges of perjury.  Jerry Trump even tearfully asked for the forgiveness of Ryan and his family for lying on the stand. So there is now literally NO evidence to keep Ryan locked up. Even members of the original jury who convicted him now believe he’s innocent. And yet Ryan is still behind bars…

 Final documents were delivered to the judge last week and now he must decide whether Ferguson is granted a new trial. The state still stands by its case and it’s entirely possible that the judge will rule against Ryan, since recanted testimony is often frowned upon by courts. Even if Ryan is granted a new trial it may not be for months – or years – to come, and Ryan may have to remain behind bars until this new date. Are you angry yet?

 At this point the legal process is in full swing – but Ryan needs all the support (and coverage) he can receive. I know a lot of TV people read this site so please so pass this story along to your colleagues and friends. You can ‘like’ this post via the Facebook icon below. Or pass along via Twitter (use the hashtag #ryanferguson).

And of course celebrity names always help so if you have contacts in the celebrity world please ask them to Re-Tweet and pass along. I shall be doing just that – and hope you can also help.

Hopefully justice will soon be served in this truly tragic case – and a young man won’t lose anymore of his life behind bars. I truly hope this story shakes you as much as it does me…

NOV 2012 UPDATE: As you may know Ryan’s appeal was turned down by a judge in October – meaning he now has to wait in jail for yet ANOTHER appeal. This shocking injustice continues! There is an online Petition at Change.org that I urge everyone to sign – and to spread the word. It only takes a minute to sign and EVERY name counts. Please help.

JAN 2012 UPDATE: In the last couple of months I’ve stepped up my work on this case big time, together with a great guy from Facebook who has helped us transform Ryan’s public profile. There is a new Facebook page I urge you to check out which has made amazing progress these last few weeks – and we’ll soon have a new look website for Ryan to unveil. I’ve been speaking with Ryan in jail and will be visiting him in the next couple of months. We WILL get justice for Ryan.