Bowling Green, MO: A prisoner convicted of killing a Columbia, Mo. sports editor is suing for his freedom in a Pike County courtroom. Charles Erickson had plead guilty to the murder Kent Heitholt, the sports editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune, on Halloween night in 2001.
The crime took place in Boone County, but his case is before Pike County Circuit Court Judge Milan Berry because Erickson is an inmate at the Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green. He continued that effort last week with a filing responding to the prosecution’s initial arguments in the case. Erickson was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2004 alongside his friend Ryan Ferguson. Erickson had pled guilty and fingered Ferguson in the case, claiming to have remembered participating in the crime after a night of drinking and drug use. Ferguson was exonerated in 2013 after his attorney established that the prosecution had withheld evidence from the defense. He later awarded more than $10 million in damages against six Columbia police officers. During the course of Ferguson’s exoneration, Erickson gave an affidavit saying that he was unable to remember the events of that night. Erickson launched his own bid for exoneration in December 2018. He claims his confession in the case was coerced and untrue. His attorney’s filing in the case points to his youth — he was 17 at the time of the alleged crime — and mental disorders as reasons he might have been vulnerable to their pressure.
“For almost fifteen years, Charles Erickson has languished in prison for a conviction that is not supported by any physical evidence or testimony. The only reason Charles became, and now remains, incarcerated is that aggressive police and prosecutors exploited his vulnerabilities, including his past experiences, psychological disorders, youth, cognitive dysfunction, and substance abuse, to coerce Charles to confess and plead guilty to a crime he did not commit,” the filing reads.
The prosecution responded in April, saying the confession was valid, Erickson was guilty and his bid for freedom legally inadmissible. In their most recent filing, Erickson’s lawyer, Landon Magnusson of Liberty, objected to the state’s argument that Erickson’s repeated confessions undermined his case. “Charles… has not hidden the fact that his prior statements about the Heitholt murder were not truthful. But with all of their inconsistencies and Charles’ repeated declarations of uncertainty, it is not difficult to deduce their falsity,” the filing reads.