The family of Christian Ferguson, the nine-year-old who disappeared in 2003, feel they are finally getting a chance at justice through a trial that’s nearly two decades in the making.
Beginning today, a jury will have to decide if Dawan Ferguson is guilty of child abuse and killing his nine-year-old son Christian in 2003. This morning, the prosecution and defense made their opening statements.
Almost 20 years ago, a severely disabled boy vanished from the backseat of a stolen SUV. First known as the "disappearance of Christian Ferguson," the case received nation-wide coverage but remained a mystery. In recent years, however, Christian's father, 49-year-old Dawan Ferguson, has come under increasing suspicion.
Christian was born in 1993 with Citrullinmeia, a rare inherited disorder that left him unable to digest protein. He required medication and a strict diet. By 2003, his condition had deteriorated, and he couldn't walk or talk. He had to go back to wearing diapers and using a feeding tube.
The trial centers on the events of June 11, 2003. Ferguson later told police that Christian had been vomiting all night. That morning, Ferguson said he was rushing his son from their home in Pine Lawn to St. Louis Children's Hospital. On the way, he said he decided to call ahead to the hospital.
He stopped at a payphone at Page and Skinker and called the hospital. But, while at the payphone, he said his SUV was stolen with Christian inside. Around 6 a.m. that day, Ferguson called 911 from the same payphone at Page and Skinker, saying that his car had been stolen.
A search ensued. Ferguson's SUV was located in a residential neighborhood about five miles away from where he called police.
In the coming weeks and months, the police searched extensively for Christian. The nonprofit Shawn Hornbeck Foundation set up a "command post" to coordinate community efforts, and soon the FBI were also involved in the search.
But Christian was never found.
Investigators discovered that Ferguson had keys to a Chevrolet Malibu owned by family friend Lakisha Mayes. That Malibu showed up on video taken at Page and Skinker around the same time that Ferguson made the original 911 call.
It was also revealed that Ferguson had on him a cell phone, begging the question as to why he would have stopped at a payphone to call the hospital.
Yet, for almost two decades, the case did not progress.
Then, in 2019, Christian’s mother, Theda Person, contacted St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell. After looking at the evidence, Bell decided to press charges.
The new charges coincided with sexual abuse allegations against Ferguson. In 2019, he and his wife divorced, and in court filings, Monica Ferguson alleged Ferguson had sexually abused two relatives.
In his opening statement, prosecutor John Schlesinger pointed out to the jury that Christian had not always been severely disabled. Despite being born with a rare inherited disorder, he was able to live a more or less normal life — though it was a life that required extensive medical care, medication and a strict diet.
To demonstrate this, Schlesinger showed a home video of Christian clowning for the camera, walking around while wearing adult shoes too big for his feet.
But in January 2001, Schlesinger said, Ferguson had full custody of his son and was neglectful.
On January 16, Christian began vomiting, but Ferguson did not take him to the hospital until the following day. Christian slipped into a coma.
When Christian came out of the coma, his condition had worsened, and he now faced the debilitations that defined the final two years of his life. In 2003, in the weeks before Christian's disappearance, Person was attempting to regain partial custody.
In his opening statement, Schlesinger alleged that Ferguson was heard saying that Christian's mother would get custody of the child over his dead body.
Schlesinger also extensively previewed witnesses that would be called in the coming week. He stated that the state would call multiple witnesses, including home health aids, who would testify that Ferguson was extremely negligent in caring for his disabled son. He also said he would call to the stand family members who were in the Pine Lawn home the night before Ferguson claimed his SUV was stolen while taking his son to the hospital.
Finally, Schlesinger said he would call to the stand individuals who spoke to Ferguson after the incident. Schlesinger said these individuals will testify that Ferguson said, "That boy was dead before I reported him missing," and "I did what I had to do."
Ferguson's public defender Jemia Steele recounted Ferguson's version of events on the morning of June 11, 2003. She added that Ferguson used the payphone despite having a cell phone because his phone was out of minutes.
Steele began her opening statement with the simple declaration "Dawan Ferguson did not kill his son."
This story will be updated.