Supporters of a man convicted of murder in large part based on the dreams of a witness at trial are nursing fragile hopes that a hearing in a United States court today will be a step towards his eventual exoneration.

Little has moved in the Missouri justice system even to allow Ryan Ferguson, 26, a new trial in the 2001 murder of Kent Heitholt in the parking lot of the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he worked as sports editor, even though two key witnesses, including the man who had the dreams and who was convicted with him, have recanted their stories.

The key to his regaining his freedom may be the changing recollections of what happened by Ferguson's erstwhile friend Charles Erickson.

Both men were arrested in 2005 and charged with murder and robbery after Erickson began telling friends that he had been having disturbing dreams in which he and Ferguson committed the murder on Halloween in 2001.


But in a deposition last year, Erickson said that he killed the editor on his own. Erickson said in the deposition: "I made up what I said about Ryan being on top of the victim."

Later he admits: "I lied about him strangling the victim."

A second witness, Jerry Trump, has also changed his story.

The hearing today will hear arguments from Kathleen Zellner, a high-profile Chicago lawyer who recently took Ferguson's case on a pro bono basis, that he should be released on the basis of the witness recantations as well as new witness testimony and suggestions that the jury-selection process in the 2005 trial had been unconstitutional.

"I think it's going to take a higher court to untangle this case," the lawyer said.

Pressure for Ferguson, who is serving 40 years, at least to win a fresh trial has been kept up by a public-relations campaign led by his father, Bill Ferguson.