Kent Heitholt's body was found next to his car in the parking lot of the Columbia Daily Tribune. The newspaper's sports editor was last seen by his colleagues shortly after 2 a.m. on Nov. 1, 2001. He was severely beaten with a blunt object, but the cause of death was strangulation.
Kent Heitholt was strangled with his own belt. The leather snapped, leaving the buckle and a fragment of the belt at the crime scene. The rest of the belt was never recovered. The crime scene left police stymied for more than two years before they arrested Charles Erickson and Ryan Ferguson.
Police discovered several unidentified fingerprints on Kent Heitholt's car. The prints could not be matched to either Charles Erickson or Ryan Ferguson.
Ryan Ferguson's fight for freedom
Credit: Columbia Police Department
At Ryan Ferguson's trial in 2005, Charles Erickson testified that he had repeatedly beat Kent Heitholt with a tire tool from Ferguson's car. "There was blood everywhere." Police did not find any blood in Ferguson's car and the weapon was never found.Ryan Ferguson's fight for freedom
A notepad with blood smear was on the driver's side seat of Kent Heitholt's car, along with his glasses. One of the lenses was broken during the brutal attack. It was found under his car. When police arrived, they found the car doors closed.Ryan Ferguson's fight for freedom
Credit: Columbia Police Department
Several high school and college basketball programs and schedules were found around and under Kent Heitholt's car.
Michael Boyd was the last known person to see his boss, Kent Heitholt, alive. At a hearing in April 2012, Boyd testified that he spoke to Heitholt in the Tribune parking lot sometime after 2:10 a.m. on Nov. 1, 2001. They discussed a high school football game Boyd was going to cover.
Michael Boyd said he left the parking lot around 2:20 a.m. and drove straight home. Minutes later, co-workers found Kent Heitholt's body lying face down near his car, in a pool of blood. Boyd said he returned to the parking lot later that morning, after learning about the crime. This appears to be Boyd, far left, peering out onto the crime scene.
The Columbia Police Department released a composite sketch based on interviews with Shawna Ornt, a janitor who saw two young men in the parking lot, one of whom she got a clear look at when he spoke to her before walking off.
Former janitor Jerry Trump was a critical prosecution witness at Ryan Ferguson's trial. He identified Ferguson as one of the men he saw at the crime scene. Here, at a hearing in April 2012, Trump admits he lied and says he can't identify either man he saw in the parking lot that night.
At a hearing in April 2012, Charles Erickson testified that he lied at Ryan Ferguson's trial. The truth, he says, is that he really doesn't know what happened the night Kent Heitholt was murdered. "I said I remembered things I didn't remember ... I basically sold my soul to save myself."
In October 2012, Judge Daniel Green upheld Ryan Ferguson's conviction. There was never any physical evidence tying Ferguson to Kent Heitholt's murder. Now there are no witnesses connecting him to the crime. Though Ferguson remains in prison, he hasn't given up all hope. "I'm an innocent man, and the facts prove it."
Ryan Ferguson's father, Bill, is determined to prove his son's innocence. He is offering a $10,000 reward for finding the man who was seen in the parking lot that night. He is the man who appears in this sketch.