Follow up from a Breaking news report.
A St. Louis County jury Friday rejected Dawan Ferguson’s 2003 claim that a carjacker abducted his disabled 9-year-old son, instead convicting him of murdering the boy nearly two decades ago.
Jurors found Dawan Ferguson, 49, of St. Louis County, guilty of first-degree murder resulting in Christian Ferguson’s death after fewer than three hours of deliberations. He will be sentenced to life in prison without parole, the mandatory sentence for first-degree murder when prosecutors don’t seek the death penalty.
On June 11, 2003, Dawan Ferguson left his Pine Lawn home with Christian, and the boy was never seen again. Shortly after 6 a.m., Dawan Ferguson called 911 from a pay phone at Page and Skinker boulevards in St. Louis to report that his maroon Ford Expedition was taken in a carjacking with his son inside.
He said Christian was wearing a diaper and was wrapped in a red and blue blanket. Prosecutors said he claimed a carjacking to cover up his son’s murder. The defense said there was no evidence of murder, no body and thus no known cause of death.
Dawan Ferguson had had full custody of his son since 1998. He has long denied involvement in his son’s disappearance. He did not testify at trial this week and his defense had argued there was no evidence of murder.
”The state doesn’t know,” Dawan Ferguson’s lawyer, Jemia Steele, said in court this week.
The day Christian disappeared, police found a Chevrolet Malibu belonging to one of Dawan Ferguson’s close friends parked down the block from the pay phone he used to call 911. His maroon SUV was found later that day on Ronbar Lane in Ferguson but two residents testified to seeing it parked there before sunrise. Also, the owner of the Malibu lived a few blocks from where police found the abandoned SUV.
Christian’s body has never been found. Christian’s doctors testified he would have died within one to three days without medication and nutrition for a rare genetic disorder, citrullinemia, which prevented his body from processing protein. After slipping into a coma in 2001 and suffering brain damage, the boy lost the ability to talk, walk and had to eat primarily through a feeding tube.
When Christian vanished, Dawan Ferguson and his ex-wife Theda Person had been fighting over custody of their two sons. According to testimony, in the months leading up to the boy’s disappearance, Dawan Ferguson withheld life-saving medication and missed several court-ordered visits with his ex-wife in what prosecutors said was an attempt to conceal the boy’s declining health.
The trial in St. Louis County Circuit Court included testimony from police, the FBI, the boy’s doctors and several of Christian’s relatives. The case has gotten local and national media attention and the trial was livestreamed by St. Louis TV news channels and Court TV. A St. Louis-based representative from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has watched the trial all week and said it could serve as a bellwether for thousands of other missing children’s cases nationwide.
”All I can say is that we are very pleased that we were finally able to bring Christian and his family some justice,” Assistant Prosecutor John Schlesinger, the lead attorney on the case, said at a press conference after the verdict was announced.
Person, Christian’s mother, also spoke at the press conference, noting that the verdict was still sinking in after nearly two decades of pushing for answers in her son’s disappearance. “You just have to constantly believe in yourself, and if you know that you’re right you just have to stick to it and just keep moving.”
Without Christian’s body, prosecutors presented a largely circumstantial case that Dawan Ferguson killed Christian by inflicting yearslong neglect.
Dawan Ferguson withheld food and medication from Christian, skipped doctors appointments and left him alone at home tied to his bed in squalor, prosecutors said. He ignored Christian’s needs because those duties were “inconvenient” to his polyamorous lifestyle.
”This child’s life was punishment,” Schlesinger said during the trial. “What he had to endure and suffer was cruel and inhumane.”
In-home nurses testified that when they came to Christian’s home they would find him in the same diapers and clothing — heavily soiled — that he’d worn for days. A Children’s Hospital pharmacist said Christian’s 30-day supplies of life-saving prescriptions frequently wouldn’t get picked up for weeks or months.
An FBI agent who investigated Christian’s disappearance said that when agents searched the Ferguson family’s home, Christian’s room had an “overwhelming” stench of urine, vomit on his sheets and rusting bedsprings. Agents seized Christian’s soiled bedding, clothing and discarded, double-wrapped diapers.
Christian’s geneticist Dr. Dorothy Grange, who had treated him since he was a baby, testified Thursday that Christian missed routine checkups and went from May 2002 to March 2003 without an appointment. She said Christian didn’t grow between the ages of 7 and 9, weighing 57 pounds in November 2001 and dropping to 50 pounds in March 2003.
Steele argued in court that none of Christian’s medical providers, who are required by law to report abuse, notified authorities.
“The state wants you to believe that Dawan was, like, slowly killing this child in front of home health care workers, doctors, whatever,” Steele said. “And none of them noticed? Because if it was remotely true, one of them would have called DFS or told the authorities about it. That’s not what happened.”