The Victims of a Broken Justice System: Ryan Ferguson, Charles Erickson and the Terrible Travesty of Robert Davis
Victims of wrongful conviction are being exonerated and released from prison everyday from all around the country. There are many reasons wrongful convictions happen and over the last decade aka "The Innocence Movement" it's come to light that one of those reasons is convictions based on a 'false confession'. It has been proven there are key elements that can lead to false confessions, some of those are coercion, incompetency of the accused and even extreme tiredness. Many citizens still can't fathom or don't care enough to understand how a person could give a false statement or confession during police interrogation. Those that cannot see the evidence or bigger picture by this point have chosen not to believe, or they simply don't care and that's really unfortunate. Wrongful convictions can happen to anyone and that's a fact, while some citizens are more at risk, it has effected every race and nationality here in the United States. If any person, innocent or overcharged were asked if they wish they'd known more at time of their arrest, undoubtedly they would agree. Most of us are blind to this dark side of our country's 'Judicial System' until we are affected personally by a 'Miscarriage of Justice' and by that time, it's already too late.
History has shown that even a defendant widely believed innocent the day of conviction with an enormous amount of support from the public is sure to lose a large piece of their life once incarcerated. They will never again be the same person they were; after those prison doors are closed, it will likely be at least ten years minimum before the conviction is overturned. That's if they are one of the 'lucky' ones.
Such was the nationally known case of Ryan Ferguson from Columbia, Missouri. In 2001, Ryan who was only 17, went out for a night of underage drinking on Halloween with a buddy named Charles Erickson. The two boys had a fun enough night out and returned home, Ryan never even thought all that much about the evening again. Almost exactly two years later a mentally ill Charles Erickson falsely confessed to murdering Kent Heitholt, a well known and liked sports editor that was violently murdered the night the boys went bar hopping, he also implicated Ryan. Based on nothing but a mentally ill young man's statement and eye witness testimony (also known reason for wrongful conviction), both Ryan and Charles were convicted of murder. Not one piece of substantial evidence pointed to either of these boys. Further, Charles' confession didn't match details of the crime scene and he changed his story multiple times, but regardless of this they were both convicted of the terrible crime. Ryan is probably one of the most well-known, loved and supported exonerees of all time with people calling for his release from the very beginning, yet it still took ten whole years to have his conviction overturned. Charles Erickson remains behind bars today.
Ryan Ferguson is sadly one of the more fortunate, many wrongfully charged and convicted fight for their freedom 20 to 30 to 35 or more years. The system is broken.
I love the law and my passion for knowledge began years before learning of wrongful convictions. Law and Policies were put in place to protect it's citizens and were needed because unfortunately there are bad people all over. Some fight for the death penalty while others rally against it but this isn't so cut and dry for me. I strongly believe that If you hurt or kill someone, you should pay for your crime and believe the victims families are due this justice. Likewise if a person is ripped from their family for a crime they did not commit, I believe these families are due their justice just as well. Because our system is so badly damaged, I stand on the side of apposing the death penalty. You can choose to believe it or not but facts show that innocent people have spent decades behind bars while others paid the ultimate price for crimes they didn't commit or crimes that never existed in the first place.
One thing that seems to confuse many is lack of understanding that investigators and attorney's are human just like the rest of us and again, there are bad people all over. The difference is that if it's proven those with authority are guilty of wrong doing they face the possibility of losing their job or being disgraced while 'We the People' pay with our freedom. Its also been shown through studies that a person guilty or innocent is likely to be found guilty if the crime is especially heinous, such as in the case of crimes against children. The jury is so emotionally involved the State's Attorney and witnesses can say almost anything without evidence to support their theory and the jury is easily fooled. Because this is a known fact, many defendants are persuaded by their bad attorney's to take deals even though they are completely innocent, complicating things even further.
The time has come for us to stand up and call for review of current policies and to fight for new laws that will protect our countries people from this type of crime. It's time for us to wake up.
Robert Davis is another fellow Virginia resident, he was raised in Albemarle which is about an hour and a half outside the DC metropolitan area. Robert has been described as a gentle giant by those who know him. His mother stated that he didn't know how to fight and would take a beating and because of this he attracted quite a few bullies during his childhood and teenage years. One of those bullies described him as a pushover that was easily manipulated. Robert also has learning disabilities and was generally about three years behind his age in learning capabilities.
Robert's case entails many of the same things we heard about in the Justin Wolfe and Michael Hash cases. Those being, a heinous crime, false statements and accusations during police interrogation, very young defendant, over zealous police investigation and bad defense lawyering. There are also a few major differences however. Robert confessed during a late night police interrogation that at the urging of his attorney, entered into an Alford Plea and is serving year 11 of a 23 year sentence in prison.
From the plea deal, to the person whose statements put Robert behind bars, this case is absolutely mind-blowing and appalling. A boy with learning disabilities was put in prison based only on his false middle-of-the-night confession and statements made by a mentally ill girl and his childhood bully.
WHEN INNOCENT DEFENDANTS FALSELY CONFESS: ANALYZING THE RAMIFICATIONS OF ENTERING ALFORD PLEAS IN THE CONTEXT OF THE BURGEONING INNOCENCE MOVEMENT
On August 19, 2011, Damien Echols left death row and faced the
In 2002, two well known and unliked teenagers, 15 year-old Jessica and her 19 year-old brother Rocky Fugett brutally murdered one of their neighbors, Nola Charles and her three year old son Thomas. Jessica had a history of emotional and mental illness and Rocky was known as the town bully. In fact, he had a couple run-ins with the law for attacking Robert Davis physically.
Nola Charles was found bound and stabbed to death and her young son Thomas was found in the nearby room having succumbed to smoke inhalation. After Nola's stabbing, the Fugett siblings tried to cover up their crime by starting a fire. The crime understandably rocked the small town of Cozet, and there was talk of witchcraft and devil worship. Keep in mind that this occurred in Southern Virginia, also referred to as 'buckle of the bible belt', and investigators were under a lot of pressure.
After the Fugett kids were tracked down and hauled in for interrogation both of them cracked and confessed quickly. While Jessica who was known for being a liar gave her confession, she named two other kids from the neighborhood, Tygue Herrmann (17) and Robert Davis (18). There was absolutely no evidence supporting this or a connection between these kids besides growing up in the same neighborhood but none the less, investigators took this information seriously.
The Bully Got The Last Word
Detective Randy Snead, lead detective in the case, finished questioning Jessica Fugett then went to speak with her brother Rocky. Snead relayed the two additional names Jessica provided, Tygue Herrmann and Robert Davis and asked if they were involved. Rocky quickly agreed.
After Rocky's confirmation on the boys involvement both of them were arrested and dragged in for questioning. There was no evidence of their involvement and both boys told Snead that Rocky hated them and had bullied them quite a bit growing up but for unknown reasons this had no bearing on Snead's opinion of their guilt.
After five hours of questioning, denying involvement 78 times, denying being in the Charles home 26 times, insisting he was being truthful 26 times, asking for a ploygragh test 5 times and repeatedly complaining of being tired, uncomfortable in the shackles and wanting his mom, Robert finally asked the very unfortunate question.
"What do I have to say to get out of this?"
at 3.42am Robert made the following statement.
"If you all are ready to put me in jail, put me in jail right now, because I'm tired, and I'm ready to go to sleep."
Very soon after, Tygue Herrmann was released from custody due to insufficient evidence but Robert was not so lucky. He had given investigators all the evidence they needed; in Robert's desperation to end the interrogation, he'd confessed to the murder of a young mother and her small child.
2005, Rocky Fugett pleaded guilty to the murders and was sentenced to 75 years in prison. 2006, he sent a letter to Robert's attorney with the following statement:
"I feel the information in my possession would help change the outcome of Robert's conviction."
Rocky Fugett met with reporters and explained that he hated both Tygue and Robert so when investigators asked of their involvement, he had no problem lying. In fact, he even enjoyed the idea of getting them in a bit of trouble. What he didn't expect was for Robert to first confess then take the Alford Plea. The fact that his last attempt to bully the boys he preyed on for years turned into a 23 year conviction for Robert was keeping him up at night.
Jessica Fugett who is serving a 100 year sentence has recanted her statements about Robert's involvement, and then recanted her recantation. She has also named other suspects in the years since. Jessica is just as unreliable today as she was at the original time of interrogation. She has a long known history of mental illness having even been declared incompetent to stand trial at one point. Jessica has always been known as a pathological liar, so why were her statements ever taken so seriously and over those of good trustworthy kids?
Robert Davis was arrested and literally dragged to the police station in the middle of the night for interrogation based on statements of a mentally ill, pathological liar and his childhood bully. Robert told investigators that his bully, Rocky Fugett, hated him during interrogation many times but regardless of this they moved forward with their case against him. Robert is also mentally challenged and was extremely tired during interrogation and was easily persuaded. Because the Alford Plea was used, Robert's only chance for release before completion of his sentence is through Pardon. Governor Bob McDonnell has had his petition for clemency before him for some time, well over a year and thats way too long. Please support Robert's case and help by getting his story out there.
Excellent article on Robert's case below along with other references
Double recantation: Is an innocent man in jail for the Crozet murders?
Clemency petition: Fugetts recant; Davis still in prison
The Innocent Movement
rticle written by Lisa Wallace
Copyright © 2014
Freedom For All
All Rights Reserved
It certainly seems that lately someone is getting exonerated or paid damages for wrongful convictions at least once a week. What used to happen once every few years is happening on a widespread scale now. The question we always seem to ask is, "How could this have happened", and its a reasonable question. But sometimes its easy to see how someone could have been wrongly convicted by well meaning people who truly thought they had the right person. But rarely does a case come along like that of Jonathan Fleming. Alibis come and go, and its also easy to see how one might dismiss an alibi given by a loved one. But Jonathan Fleming was on vacation. In another state. He served 24 years and 8 months in prison.
This should never have happened.
The case centered on the shooting death of a rival drug dealer of Fleming's, Daryl "Black" Rush, who was shot in Brooklyn early on the morning of August 15, 1989. At the time, Fleming told the police he had been in Orlando, Florida at Disney world and provided plane tickets videos, and postcards that he thought would clear his name. Unfortunately, as prosecutors will do, they said he could have made a quick plane trip back to do the murder in time to return to his vacation. Since a woman had gone on the record that she had seen Fleming shoot Rush (something she later recanted, saying she had done it to avoid jail on a different charge), Fleming was arrested. He claimed to have a phone bill receipt that he had paid that would prove he was in Florida at a time that would have cleared him from suspicion. Police claimed no such receipt was found in his belongings.
When the defense asked the District Attorney's office to do a review of the case last year, they found a receipt for a phone bill, paid in Florida, time-stamped 5 hours before the murder. In addition, defense found witnesses that pointed to a different shooter.
How hard could it have been for the police to have found these same people? This is one of those cases that really makes you believe that everyone is corrupt. The fact that this could happen when the man had proof in his pocket that was just sitting in the D.A.'s file is absolutely incredible to me.
This really is a case for the books. When you think about it, its almost funny, like a bad joke. The police had a dead drug dealer on their hands. So what do they do? They track down his rival, who has a solid alibi. They hide evidence that supports his story and find a criminal with something to lose willing to say they saw him do it. And the prosecutor managed to convince twelve strangers that they should ignore his alibi, because he 'could have' taken a plane back to commit the murder before returning to Florida on his vacation. Although there was no evidence of any of that. But it didn't matter. Even with the lone shred of evidence, the eyewitness, recanted weeks after his conviction, it didn't matter. It didn't matter until cases were jointly being reviewed by his attorney's the DA's Conviction Review Unit.
You see, when Fleming was arrested, he told the police about the phone bill and that he believed the receipt was in his pocket. They told the defense there was no receipt, but when the review unit found it, it had been dated and logged in by the police, just as all belongings are, on the very same evening he was arrested. Fleming's former girlfriend also confirmed his story when interviewed, stating that she had phoned him the night of the murder and spoken to him when he was in Florida. Phone records supported her claim.
When the 'eyewitness' attempted to recant her testimony, the judge threw it out because he said she did not have enough facts to back up her story.
Sorry about that whole 'losing 25 years of your life thing'....