Legal News & Safety Info

MTV Series: Unlocking The Truth About Wrongful Convictions

Ryan Ferguson was just 19-years old when he was arrested – and eventually convicted – of a murder in Columbia, Mo., he did not commit. Now he is investigating other cases where it appears there were wrongful convictions. One of those cases involves Michael Politte.  Langdon & Emison is working with the Midwest Innocence Project on Michael’s case to prove his innocence.

Ryan Ferguson’s Story

Ryan Ferguson was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit. He was convicted without any physical evidence linking him to the crime and based upon the accusations of a co-defendant in exchange for a plea deal. Years later, Ferguson’s accuser recanted his testimony:

“The reason that I felt I needed to lie and make things up is because I couldn’t remember anything,” [the accuser, Charles Erickson] told [CBS News’ 48 Hours correspondent Erin Moriarty].

Despite everything he said before, Erickson now says he never had any memory of what happened the night Kent Heitholt was killed – at least not after he sneaked into that bar.

“Do you remember leaving the club?” Moriarty asked Erickson.

No, I don’t remember leavin’ – at all,” he replied.

“Do you – remember driving home?”

“No, I don’t even know if Ryan took me home,” said Erickson.


“Did you find any blood on your clothing when you woke up? Moriarty asked Erickson.

“No. I had no blood on my clothing. I had no injuries. I had no murder weapons,” he replied.

“Was there anything through that day that made you think you had been involved in a horrific murder”? Moriarty asked.

“No,” said Erickson.

And yet a full two years [after the murder] after reading an article about the unsolved murder, Erickson suddenly became convinced – almost obsessed with the idea – that he might have done something terrible during his blackout.

“I read there were two white guys there – two white kids. I saw the picture in the paper which is a sketch… and it looked like me,” Erickson said. “I just realized I couldn’t remember what I’d done that night.”

Ryan Ferguson: Wrongfully Convicted [Erin Moriarty at 48 Hours]

That hazy, nearly incoherent, and false accusation was enough to land Ryan Ferguson with a 40 year prison sentence for murder.  Now, Ferguson is on a mission to help free other wrongfully convicted prisoners.

Michael Politte

Michael Politte is the first case that Ferguson and co-investigator Eva Nagao examine in their MTV series, Unlocking the Truth.  Michael was arrested – at only 14 years old – for the murder of his mother, Rita, who was found dead in their home after being beaten with a blunt object and set on fire. Michael was interrogated by police without a lawyer present and given a Computer Voice Stress Analysis Test, which police said he “failed.” At only 15-years old, Michael was charged as an adult for murder.

Michael, with the help of the Midwest Innocence Project and Langdon & Emison, is working to find the truth about what happened actually happened to his mother and gain his freedom.

In 2002, Michael was falsely convicted of the crime largely based on unreliable fire-identification methods. At trial, the fire marshal testified, based on a visual examination, that the fire pattern and burn damage on and around the victim indicated that a liquid accelerant had been used. Additionally, an analyst testified that Michael’s shoes tested positive for gasoline, thereby tying the accelerant allegedly found on Michael’s shoes to the accelerant they believed had been used at the crime scene. Michael and his friends had previously been known to fill up their free-time in their small, rural town playing with homemade firecrackers, which the prosecution twisted to imply that Michael would have chosen fire as a means to kill his mother, despite any clear motive.

Michael is innocent. There is no physical evidence connecting him to the crime scene, and MIP has uncovered new evidence regarding the fire science used to convict him. This evidence not only supports Michael’s innocence, but further indicates that Rita’s killer is still free. Although several alternative suspects were at play during the initial investigation of the case, with much greater motive than the victim’s own 14-year old son, none were fully investigated by police. Michael’s release would be the first step to giving Michael, his sisters, and the rest of his family long-awaited closure.

Midwest Innocence Project

You can read more about the new developments in arson science here. Support the work of MIP in freeing innocent individuals like Michael Politte by donating here.

MTV – Unlocking the Truth

Unlocking the Truth premiered on MTV last night. The very first episode begins the examination of Michael Politte’s case. If you missed the episode, it will re-air frequently on MTV or you can watch the entire episode right here:

© Copyright 2016 Brett A. Emison

Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.