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May 12, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Erin Moriarty knows Columbia and its murder record. The seasoned veteran of 48 Hours Mystery, a journalistically powered crime series on CBS, has covered two Columbia murders in the past six years.
The New York-based reporter investigated the case of convicted murderer Ryan Ferguson in 2005 and the Tausha Fields murder case in 2008. The visits give her a flavor of small-town life, especially one with a few unusual murders in its past. “I find Columbia to be the best kind of American city to visit: a major university, which attracts research and culture,” she writes in an email. “People, like so many Midwesterners, are open and friendly ... and I believe, sincerely, want justice.”Related Articles
She refuses to let go of the intricate Ferguson case she has devoted two hour-long 48 Hours Mystery segments to. The latest aired on March 26. The novelty of the crime makes her interest in it difficult to shake.
Despite no physical evidence, in 2005 Charles (Chuck) Erickson and Rock Bridge High School friend Ryan Ferguson were convicted of second-degree murder for the 2001 killing of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt. Two and a half years after the murder, the police questioned Erikson after a tipster called the police reporting he or she had heard Erickson talking about the Heitholt murder at a party. In Erickson’s testimony, he described “repressed memories” he had, in which he and Ferguson committed the brutal act. In 2010, Erickson changed his claim and said he acted alone. Ferguson consistently denied any involvement.
But Moriarty is no stranger to unusual crimes, and she has a résumé to prove it. Raised in Columbus, Ohio, she earned a law degree from The Ohio State University in 1977. She has worked in broadcast since 1979, and she has had stints in Columbus, Baltimore, Cleveland and Chicago. Moriarty went to CBS in 1986 as a consumer correspondent for CBS This Morning and joined 48 Hours in 1990. She has won nine Emmys for her work.
Cases such as Ferguson’s make investigating murder more interesting. “It makes you appreciate your own life more because you realize things could be so much worse,” she writes in an email. “It’s a pretty dark world you’re looking out onto.”
Although the job is both draining and stimulating, one perk is meeting interesting individuals. One such person is Ryan’s father, Bill Ferguson, who has made it his personal quest to prove his son’s innocence. Bill says Moriarty is professional, experienced and knows what she’s talking about. “She adds that aspect that most people couldn’t even touch,” he says. “When she speaks, people give her a lot of credence because of her experience. I certainly do.”
She taps into her fountain of law knowledge to research wrongdoing and to provide as many facts as she and her investigative team can gather. That’s why Moriarty calls the Ferguson case one of her favorite stories. “The Ferguson case is, without question, one of a kind,” she says. “It is the kind of story that makes me love reporting so much.”
But the Ryan Ferguson case is not the only connection she has to Columbia. She was drawn to the area in 2008 when Tausha Fields was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring with one of her five ex-husbands Greg Morton to kill former husband Mitchell Kemp in 2004. Moriarty says neither she nor the jury could believe the woman’s mysterious past.
She will return if Ferguson, now 26, is granted a writ of habeas corpus request, concerning retracted testimony of the prosecution. “We’ll definitely come back for that,” she says. “How could I miss that? It is going to be so interesting.” Moriarty says Columbia hasn’t seen the last of her.