How the jurors arrived at the conviction in the Dawan Ferguson case
Christian Ferguson was 9 years old when his father claimed he was kidnapped during a carjacking. He was never seen again.
CLAYTON, Mo. — Evidence that meant the difference between a first- or second-degree murder conviction for Dawan Ferguson on Friday was photos of prescription bottles that prosecutors showed the jury minutes before their deliberations began.
Juror Evan Harris told 5 On Your Side that the jury had been united since their deliberations began over the fact that Dawan Ferguson murdered his 9-year-old son Christian in 2003 – but she was the only one standing between s he was guilty of first or second degree murder.
Then she saw the photos of prescription bottles containing drugs her son needed to survive with a rare genetic condition that prevented him from processing protein.
There were dates on the bottles that showed they had been filled months and months before the photos were taken, and that they still contained the drug.
Christian’s doctor and pharmacists testified that the prescriptions were only supposed to last for 30 days at a time.
During the five-day trial, witnesses described seeing Christian in diapers and urine-soaked clothes. The FBI also photographed Christian’s bed, which had been soaked in urine up to the wooden slats that held the mattress in place.
Two days before Dawan Ferguson claimed a carjacker stole his car with his son inside, a judge ordered him to reinstate court-ordered visitation with the child’s mother, Theda Person.
Prosecutors alleged Christian’s father gave his son just enough medicine to ‘get by’ for months, but his ‘time was up’ and he had to make sure no one saw the condition in which Christian was in June 2003.
“I first thought about how to prove murder, you need deliberation,” Harris said. “And they showed us the dates and they were from months and a year ago and you didn’t give it to Christian.”
A first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence, which in Missouri is about 30 years without the possibility of parole.
He will be sentenced on August 16.
St. Louis County District Attorney Wesley Bell stood with Person and Christian’s sister, Lin Ferguson, following the verdict at a press conference.
Two prosecutors, including former St. Louis circuit attorney Jennifer Joyce, declined to pursue the case. The alleged carjacking described by Dawan Ferguson happened in the city.
Joyce said her office had a conflict of interest in the case because Dawan Ferguson was a bounty hunter, so she asked St. Louis County District Attorney Bob McCulloch to review the case.
Lawyers for Dawan Ferguson have argued that Theda Person pressured McCulloch’s political challenger Bell to indict her ex-husband by organizing fundraisers for his campaign. He defeated McCulloch and in 2019 framed Dawan Ferguson for Christian’s murder, saying new evidence had surfaced.
“She was right, all these years she was right and we’re just glad we were there to help her get justice,” Bell said at the press conference.
The person said she was grateful to the jurors.
“I’m just grateful that we had jurors who did their job and ensured that justice was done as much as possible for our family,” she said.
Her ex-husband is also set to stand trial again in August – this time on sexual assault charges involving two children. In this case, prosecutors say he impregnated one of his victims when she was just 13 years old.
In his closing arguments on Friday, Deputy Public Defender Jemia Steele said the prosecution’s theory of Christian’s death sounded “like they were throwing everything against a wall to see what was left.”
“Nothing sticks,” she said.
She added: “Honestly, listening to the whole state case this week felt like a parental rights trial, not a murder trial.”
She said she felt as though prosecutors were portraying her client as a “bad father” they hadn’t proven he was a murderer. She said the whole case hinged on how Dawan Ferguson’s ex-wife, Theda Person, told all witnesses that the state called their theory of what happened and that this is became the story without any evidence.
“You have to put your feelings aside,” Steele said. “Feelings are not facts. The idea that someone can be convicted of murder based on what an angry ex-wife says is unreal.
“I wouldn’t dare say Dawan was the father of the year. He made some uncomfortable choices, the missed dates, the sheets, but that’s not proof he murdered Christian.
She said prosecutors failed to prove her client killed her son because there was no way to test the child’s body to see if a lack of medication or nutrition caused his death.
The absence of Christian’s remains made the case an uphill battle for prosecutors and left the case largely circumstantial.
St. Louis County Assistant District Attorney John Schlesinger said the testimony of all witnesses was more than circumstantial evidence, as well as medical and prescription records.
The state called 29 witnesses in all. The defense appealed four during the five-day trial.
“He brought him to the brink of death and was about to get caught, so he killed him and staged a fake cover-up to try and get away with it,” Schlesinger said.
Caregivers testified that the medicine and infant formula they prepared for Christian when they were away at weekends were still there when they returned.
Steele asked caregivers, social workers and doctors why they hadn’t reported his client to the Division of Child and Family Services if they were so concerned about his safety.
“The state wants you to believe that Dawan was slowly killing her child in front of doctors and nurses for years and no one noticed,” she said. “If it was true, they would have called. They were commissioned reporters.
Schlesinger told jurors that all of these people should have reported their concerns to the state and that many people in Christian’s life “let him down.”
“Don’t be another part of the system that’s failing him now,” he said. “Find Dawan Ferguson guilty of murder.”
Two and a half hours later they did.
“We felt what the prosecution and defense were saying about how a lot of people let Christian down, when all is said and done Christian was the victim, Christian was stranded mainly by Dawan Ferguson, but there were other people, commissioned journalists who also should have reported his negligence and didn’t,” Schlesinger said.