Thursday, February 28, 2013


The novels I write about crime and the devastating    effect it has on families, whether it’s the family of the victim or the perpetrator, are fiction. But the fiction is often painfully, horribly close to the reality. For the last several years, I’ve been following the case of twenty-seven-year-old Ryan Ferguson most recently through the television news show, 48 Hours. If you aren’t familiar, Ryan was convicted in Columbia, Missouri for the 2001 murder of local reporter Kent Heitholt based solely on the testimony of two ‘witnesses’ who have now admitted they committed perjury. There are even members of the original jury who, based on this new evidence, now feel Ryan deserves a new trial. Yet he remains locked up, a victim of the Missouri so-called justice system. I’ll go a step farther and say, forget a new trial, Missouri needs to free this man immediately. You see, in addition to the recanted testimony, none of the considerable DNA evidence found at the scene belongs to Ryan. Nor does any of it match Chuck Erickson, the co-defendant who one day, two and a half years after the murder was committed, at the age of nineteen, began telling friends he had a dream about having done it. Someone called the police about Chuck’s “dream” and they picked him up. From that point forward, Chuck was basically fed information until his “story” sort of fit the facts. He had no independent information about the crime. You can watch the disturbing police interrogation of this very troubled kid here. This entire case is a travesty. Anyone with a brain can put it together. But as recently as this past October, Ryan’s latest appeal was denied. The judge’s explanation makes little sense. I think it’s fairly simple to understand what’s happening, though, that it has to do with the egos of the people involved from the police to the prosecutors to the presiding judges, who are unable to admit mistakes were made, that, in fact, a grave miscarriage of justice has taken place. Every time I see anything about this story in the news, I want to stand up and yell: Come on, people! Let Ryan go home!

The one ray of hope in all of this is that Ryan is now represented by Kathleen Zellner, who has obtained the exoneration of 10 wrongfully convicted men.

I’ve written stories from both sides of the crime, the guilty side and the innocent side, and I am, in fact, currently working on a novel about a family caught in circumstances similar to Ryan’s, where the son in the family is wrongfully accused. And something that has struck me just recently as I’ve watched Ryan’s father, mother and sister interviewed, is that regardless of which side the family is on—whether your child is the one who is guilty of the crime for which he or she stands accused, or innocent of it --  the expressions of shock and grief look the same. The tears on either side are the same. But somehow, when it’s your kid, when you know he’s innocent, I’ve got to believe that’s the harder, more difficult tragedy.

I admit to feeling as strongly as I do to some degree because I have two big, handsome sons like Ryan, too, who are near him in age, and I can scarcely allow myself to imagine the hellish nightmare this would be if it were one of them locked away for forty years and my family who was enduring the nightmare. My heart goes out to Ryan who is losing days of the freedom most of us take for granted for something he didn’t do. And my heart goes out to his parents and his sister, whose suffering is the collateral damage of this ridiculous and horrible mistake. But here’s the thing, I’m not sure when I’ve ever seen such courage and grace. Ryan bears no hard feeling, no ill will. He has even said something to the effect that anger won’t do anyone any good. He has managed to remain hopeful, although in the face of this latest denial of his appeal, he admits to feeling discouraged. Still, his demeanor is so calm and direct. He makes me proud to be a human being. In the end of every novel I write, I pose the question of forgiveness, whether it’s possible. Ryan Ferguson, and the way he’s handling what is an utterly unforgiveable situation with such courage, is the answer.

Please visit the website that is set up in his name here. Visit and “Like” his Facebook page, if, like me, after reading the facts, you can agree Ryan should be set free.

1 comment:

  1. As I have said in various places... I SO AGREE WITH YOU! This case makes me nuts. I so feel for Ryan and his family. And like you, I love that he holds no ill will toward the idiots who put him where he is. I hope he can keep his optimism up.