Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Kathleen Zellner’s Dedication to Client’s “Lost Cause” Case Pays Off
by Susan Bozorgi on December 4, 2013
Kathleen Zellner took a case that seemed by all accounts to be a lost cause when she agreed to represent Ryan Ferguson pro bono in late 2009. Ryan Ferguson was convicted of second-degree murder in December 2005 in Colombia, Missouri based on the testimony of two witnesses that were later established to be tainted and perjured. There was no physical evidence that connected Ferguson to the murder, and yet nobody really questioned the murder conviction until early 2006 when 48 hours aired an initial report of the case. After years of hard work and dedication, Ryan Ferguson walked out of jail a free man on November 12, 2013, after serving over a decade in jail. Kathleen Zellner’s zealous representation of him made that seemingly impossible dream a reality.
Zellner shared with Dateline the 10 turning points that led to her client winning his habeas appeal to the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District. After the conviction was vacated, based on the overwhelming evidence that pointed to Ferguson’s innocence, the Attorney General made the decision to not retry Ferguson. Zellner put in over 1 million dollars worth of pro bono attorney hours and incurred over $100,000 in costs. She was quoted as saying Ryan Ferguson’s case was on “life support” when she got involved.
Her website outlines the history of the case with links to the briefs that were filed. This is another extraordinary victory for a woman champion who has dedicated her career to the representation of “lost causes” and wrongfully convicted persons. This is not the first time that she has been involved in a case like this. It takes a special person to dedicate herself to fighting for our system’s most forgotten.
In the video below, Ferguson thanks Zellner for her tireless work… and she describes the feeling of elation as “better than winning the Super Bowl!”