Prosecutorial Misconduct Leads to Wrongful Conviction

At 17 years old, Ryan Ferguson was wrongly accused of murdering Keith Heitholt. Keith was a sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune, along with his friend Charles Erickson. Erickson insisted that he had a dream of blacking out and that in the dream he and Keith beat and strangled Heitholt. Ferguson was convicted at trial in 2005 to spend 40 years in prison.

The problem is there was absolutely no physical evidence tying him to the crime scene and just mere testimony, that has since been recanted by both witnesses. Just this past week the murder conviction against Ferguson was overturned by the appellate court because the prosecution withheld important evidence from the defense. They did not fulfill their duty to turn over all evidence to the defense. This is known as a Brady violation. As a Kansas criminal defense attorney, I can attest to how important it is to receive all the discovery.

This has brought up some discussion about the lack of accountability the courts have for prosecutors. Sadly, prosecutors and other lawyers sometimes abuse their power to get the results that they ultimately want. Unfortunately, there are often no repercussions. This overturned conviction comes on the heels of another case is Texas where the prosecutor, Ken Anderson, was sentenced to jail time, disbarment and community service for his role in a murder case in 1987. Anderson put a case together against Michael Morton for murdering his wife and withheld important evidence, including testimony from the 3 year old son stating that the murderer was not his father, from the defense. In 2010 DNA evidence exonerated Morton after he had already spent 25 years in prison and this also launched the investigation into Anderson's conduct.

Anderson had to step down as Judge, was disbarred and has to serve 10 days in jail along with 500 hours of community service. This sentence may seem light compared to putting an innocent man in jail for 25 years and depriving him of a life with his son after his wife was murdered but this could be a sign that change is coming in regards to prosecutorial misconduct which is becoming a serious and frequent problem in the legal community.

Categories: Constitution, Criminal law
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