COLUMBIA, Mo. - The father of a man whose sentence was vacated in the high-profile killing of a Columbia sports editor says a civil lawsuit his family has filed aims to hold law enforcement officials accountable if they act maliciously in prosecuting a case.
Bill Ferguson said he wants some police and prosecutors to serve prison time for their handling of the case against his son, Ryan Ferguson, who was convicted in 2005 of the death of Columbia sports editor Kent Heitholt. An appeals court vacated the sentence last year.
The Kansas City Star reported Monday that Bill Ferguson said he's not interested in settling the lawsuit filed in March alleging civil rights violations were committed by Boone County, the city of Columbia and several current and former Columbia Police Department employees. Among other things, the lawsuit alleges investigators fabricated evidence and committed reckless or intentional failure to investigate. The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in August 2015.
The family originally sought $100 million in damages but now does not ask for a specific amount. The lawsuit was also amended to include only six Columbia police department employees.
In a court response to the amended lawsuit, the defendants say the Fergusons' claims have no merit.
"There existed sufficient, good and/or probable cause and/or reasonable belief that (Ryan Ferguson) was involved in the crime with which he was charged," attorneys for the six remaining defendants wrote.
Bill Ferguson said he hopes the lawsuit will increase awareness of police and prosecutorial misconduct and spark legislation that increases penalties for prosecutors and law enforcement officials who are proven to have acted maliciously.
"Quite honestly," he said, "until a couple of prosecutors and a couple of policemen go to prison for a significant amount of time for lying or committing (violations regarding evidence), this will continue."
Heitholt was killed in the parking lot of The Columbia Daily Tribune in 2001. In 2004, Ryan Ferguson was arrested after a high school classmate, Charles Erickson, claimed he and Ferguson had participated in the murder.
Despite consistently denying any involvement, Ryan Ferguson was sentenced in 2005 to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder and first-degree robbery charges. His father and other supporters worked for a decade to exonerate him before the appeals court vacated the sentence after ruling the prosecution had withheld evidence from defense attorneys that could have helped Ferguson's case.
CBS' "48 Hours" covered Ferguson's case extensively. "48 Hours" correspondent Erin Moriarty followed the case for eight years.
Bill Ferguson told "CBS This Morning" following his son's release that "48 Hours" had done an "excellent, excellent job." He added, "They were the leaders. They were the ones that brought attention to this case back in 2006. They started filming during the trial in 2005, and they just stayed with it all the way through. That just means so much to us. That was tremendous. Tremendous."