Dateline | November 30, 2012
newscaster: murder of newspaper man kent heitl petered out almost as it began here this the very idea of a murderer on the loose, pretty unsettling, said ryan ferguson 's mother, leslie.
>> when you live in a town and there's been a murder and they don't know who committed the murder, you're wondering, you know, is this person still out there?
>> reporter: but as one halloween gave way to the next, life got back to normal, for the teenagers, anyway.
>> it was completely disconnected from my life. it had absolutely nothing to do with anything i knew or anyone i knew.
>> reporter: ryan ferguson and chuck erickson finished high school and moved on. ryan to college in kansas city , chuck to a somewhat life of booze and drugs in columbia. but by then the two had long since drifted apart. and anyway, said ryan , chuck was never really part of his group of friends in the first place.
>> you could say that he was definitely on the outside looking in. he was just doing things that our group didn't really get into, you know, causing problems, more or less.
>> reporter: and then two years after the murder, he ran into chuck at a new year's eve party. and chuck asked him a very odd question.
>> he says, hey, man. you remember hanging out on halloween a couple years back going to the club? yeah. he says, do you know if i had anything to do with that crime that was committed against this guy who was killed? and at that point, you know, i'm kind of freaked out. it's night. i'm outside. it's past midnight . and this guy was talking about do i know if he's involved in a murder?
>> reporter: it had to be chuck 's idea of a morbid joke, ryan decided, but it wasn't. and of course, ryan couldn't know that chuck was telling other friends about this weird dreamlike notion he was having, that he might have been involved in the murder. and a couple of months later late at night , somebody called 911. an anonymous tip.
>> you know the reporter at "the tribune" that was murdered and no one found out who it was?
>> i know what happened and i know the murderer.
>> reporter: the 911 caller didn't give his name. but agreed to meet the police and tell them how an acquaintance named chuck erickson was telling people he thought he might have committed a murder. and just like that, a dead case came roaring back to life. naturally, police called erickson in for a chat. and at first he was very hesitant, seemed confused, said he might have just blacked out and started imagining things.
>> so far, i could just be sitting here fabricating all this. like i don't know. i don't.
>> reporter: but by the end of it, he admitted everything.
>> where did you hit him at?
>> the head.
>> in the head with?
>> a wrench.
>> now, did he go down immediately?
>> i -- i don't think so. i think that he kind of staggered.
>> did you see blood coming from him?
>> reporter: it made perfect sense. a fair-skinned teenager who matched the suspect's description and had been out drinking at a college bar just a few blocks from the newspaper. the night the killing moon loomed overhead. just one problem. remember the night janitors saw two young men in the parking lot. and the police traced two sets of bloody footprints. chuck 's admission had to be only half of the equation. police needed to know, who was his accomplice, and that's when he named the person he said was with him. ryan ferguson .
>> i remember seeing ryan hovering over this guy. i think i asked him if he was dead. ryan said yeah, he's dead.
>> reporter: why would ryan and chuck want to harm anyone that night, much less a popular newspaper man they didn't know from adam. money, said chuck . they needed to rob someone to get money to buy more drinks.
>> so you guys run out of money.
>> yeah. i think we were leaving.
>> was this at closing time ?
>> this was before that.
>> reporter: miles away in kansas city , even as chuck was telling his story, it was a sunny spring afternoon. ryan was driving home from class. and was puzzled at first, he said, when the police pulled him over. what happened when you got to the police department ?
>> they tell me they're arresting me on suspicion of a murder. and at that point i'm just like oh, my goodness. this is absurd.
>> reporter: ryan told detectives he left the bar with chuck at closing time , dropped chuck off at his house, then went home and went to bed. but even as he sat here in an interrogation room denying he had anything to do with the murder, the news of his arrest was on tv.
>> there is a big break tonight in the murder of former columbia tribune sports editor kent heitholt.
>> reporter: ryan 's mother found out from a friend who had been watching the news.
>> my first reaction was just -- i just said, i think i laughed. i said, well, it's not our ryan . it has to be another ryan fergus ferguson.
>> reporter: impossible. sweet, loving, lovable ryan . not a violent bone in that boy's body, his father bill said.
>> he just didn't have that sort of a mentality. all of a sudden for him to be accused of a heinous murder is beyond comprehension.
>> reporter: and now --
>> you have the right to remain silent.
>> reporter: ryan ferguson was charged with murder. and his old buddy chuck was ready to tell the world why ryan should spend the rest of his life in prison .
>>> coming up --
>> i've got to tell them what that man did.
>> what exactly did he do? later, you'll see new evidence and new witnesses that call that into question.
>> they walked straight to the car and drove away.
>> when "dateline" continues. start with