sent me a copy of the interview with one of the jurors sitting in
during his first trial.
I was more than surprised to see the little interest they showed in
the evidence of that criminal case — where a young innocent man was
fighting for his freedom — and all the attention they paid instead to
the personal background of the defendant in the case.
One of the primary concerns of the Founding Fathers was preventing the
United States of America from developing an oppressive government. The
Bill of Rights was born out of that concern, including the right to a
trial by jury. The present state of the law is that the Sixth
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees a jury trial to anyone
facing a potential penalty of more than six months imprisonment.
Personally, if I ever need to depend on the decision of a jury such as
the one that convicted Ryan Ferguson, I would rather go without that
guarantee of the Sixth Amendment.
Juries are selected and empaneled before the start of the trial in a
process called voir dire, where the prosecuting attorney, defense
attorney and the judge may ask the jurors questions to ensure their
ability to remain impartial.
The jury hears the evidence against the defendant and weighs the
evidence to determine whether it satisfies the charged criminal
offense beyond a REASONABLE DOUBT.
In my own personal and humble opinion, this is not what happened
during the trial of Ryan Ferguson; and according to the interview
testimony of the one juror, they were more interested in the
background of the young man, the type of car they assumed he drove,
and the conclusion they jumped to at first sight, labeling him
The juror was asked: “What were your impressions of Ryan in court? Did
your fellow jurors feel the same way?”
Here is his answer. “To be honest, when we first saw Ryan we thought
he was arrogant. His demeanor and the way he spoke didn’t come across
well to the jury.”
It never occurred to this person who by his or her own account was
35-years-old (not so young any more) that what they considered
“arrogance” could very well have been shyness and fear? A shy, scared
person may be mistaken for someone cold, distant and/or arrogant.
“There was also a lot of speculation among the jury about his
background. We thought he came from money. Someone said he drove a
Mercedes. Our thoughts weren’t based on facts, but a general ‘idea’
that everyone bought into.”
That someone who said that Ryan drove a Mercedes was no other than
prosecutor Kevin Crane in his opening statement. So they were
speculating about his background and assuming wrongly about his
financial status. What difference did it make anyway if he came from
An innocent person is just as “innocent” even if he happens to be the
son of a billionaire. They were there to evaluate the evidence and
facts of the case, not to discuss the type of vehicle he drove. It was
not part of their duty to judge if he drove a Mercedes, a Bugatti
Veyron Super Sport, or if he transported himself on the back of a
donkey. This person stated very clearly that their thoughts weren’t
based on facts, but on a general idea that everyone bought into.
That’s the problem with jurors nowadays. They don’t serve on the jury
because they feel the pride that it is a right guaranteed by the
United States and their state’s constitutions, but just because they
have received a summons from the court and have no choice but to
“We all could see the problem in the videotape evidence (of Chuck
Erickson), but the thing that we couldn’t get over was — why would
Chuck implicate himself in a crime and agree to serve 25 years in jail
if he didn’t commit the crime? That just didn’t make any sense to us.”
This 35-year-old person, male or female, never heard of cocaine and
that excess use of it destroys the cells of your brain? Besides, Chuck
Erickson already knew that he was not going in for 25 years, but 12
years and 9 months under the condition of his testimony against Ryan
What was the single piece of testimony that most convinced the jury to
reach its guilty verdict? Said that juror, “Definitely Chuck
Erickson’s testimony. That was absolutely what convinced me. And
Shawna Ornt’s evidence gave the impression that she was positively
identifying Ryan and Chuck — though we now know this wasn’t the case.”
That sounds like proof that those 12 people were not paying attention
and were more interested in the background of Ryan Ferguson than the
evidence in the case. Shawna Ornt assisted authorities with not one,
but two composites of the person she spoke to on the night of the
murder of Kent Heitholt. Still, she did not identify Ryan or Chuck in
court, because she was never asked.
“To be honest we all had a problem with Ryan’s attorney Charles
Rogers. He was very hard to follow. He wasn’t well spoken at all and
didn’t carry himself well. Frankly, he sent us to sleep and we stopped
paying attention when he spoke. By contrast, Prosecutor Crane was very
convincing. His performance carried a lot of weight with the jury.”
Everybody carries fault in this case, including Judge Ellen Roper. As
a judge, if she noticed that members of the jury were falling sleep
and not paying attention to the trial, it was her duty to call one of
the alternate jurors and dismiss the one ignoring the fact that the
life of a young innocent man was put into their hands. Of course
prosecutor Kevin Crane was convincing; if instead of being so
concerned about the financial status and vehicle driven by Ryan
Ferguson, they would have paid more attention to who the prosecutor
was, they would have realized that the man was an actor who performed
theatrically in college and was acting as a performer to both
entertain and win the approval of the jurors.
I have no idea if Mr. Rogers was a retained attorney or was appointed
by the court, but that man himself was not even paying attention to
the trial. There was not one objection from him on anything.
As a juror you can sometimes speak out and be entitled to ask
questions regarding the evidence. You don’t need to follow the opinion
of others. You are presumed to be an intelligent person with a brain
of your own.
It doesn’t matter how many times those jurors ask for forgiveness,
even if they get down on their knees. They have already destroyed the
life of an innocent man.
* * * * *
Perly Viasmensky is the General Manager of the Las Vegas Tribune. She
writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Perly Viasmensky,
email her at pviasmensky@lasvegas tribune.com.