College Degree By Former Expert Witness Comes Into Question


UPDATED: Friday October 1, 2010 5:58 PM

For decades, James Ferguson was known to the legal community as an expert toxicologist.

He worked at the Franklin County coroner's crime lab as chief toxicologist and helped put people behind bars throughout central Ohio.  In May, Ferguson's credentials started to unravel, 10 Investigates' Paul Aker reported.

Ferguson was convicted of misrepresenting the year he graduated from The Ohio State University.

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Ferguson was a key witness in the Licking County trial of Virginia LeFever, who was convicted of poisoning her husband more than two decades ago.  At the trial, Ferguson told jurors that he graduated from Ohio State in 1972.  According to university records, Ferguson did not earn his degree until 1988.

"I did misrepresent the year I graduated,' Ferguson said in May.

At first, it seemed like changing the record would not matter much, since Ferguson received his degree in 1988 and did not testify in LeFever's trial until two years later, but now 10 Investigates has uncovered information that raises questions about whether Ferguson was ever qualified to testify as an expert at any trial.

10 Investigates obtained Ferguson's college transcripts in court documents that were made public yesterday.  The documents revealed that Ferguson was a poor student; they also reveal a mystery at The Ohio State University.

The transcripts that were filed in court by LeFever's attorney showed Ferguson failed basic courses in his biochemistry major.  He received D grades in several other classes.  An expert we found also determined that Ferguson's transcripts showed he missed several other required classes.

Veteran Ohio State professor Edward Behrman (emeritus), who has been at the university since 1965, reviewed Ferguson's transcripts for attorneys.  While student confidentiality concerns kept him from mentioning Ferguson specifically, Behrman said that nobody ever graduates from the university's biochemistry department with an academic record like Ferguson's.

Behrman said that a student like Ferguson who missed six of 15 required courses would have no chance of getting a degree.

"I am exceedingly puzzled," Behrman said.  "I wish I knew the answer."

10 Investigates asked the university whether Ferguson was awarded a degree in biochemistry, but on Thursday responded that "unfortunately, information that could potentially clear this up is no longer in our records."

Kort Gatterdam, who represents LeFever, has also been investigating Ferguson, Aker reported.  He said that LeFever deserves a new trial.

"Should jurors have relied upon (Ferguson) if they had known this, there's no way (LeFever would have been convicted)," Gatterdam said.

Records that 10 Investigates found showed that the expert testimony was key to LeFever's conviction.

On Wednesday, Ferguson declined to discuss his situation with 10 Investigates.

LeFever was not the only person who was involved.  Ferguson claimed that he has testified in hundreds of cases. 

10 Investigates has independently found several other cases, including those in which a subpoena referred to him as Dr. Ferguson.  Another included a felony case and there was a poisoning case, Aker reported.

"There's more Virginia LeFevers out there," Gatterdam said.

 The prosecutor who convicted LeFever said that she still believes LeFever is guilty and can prove it even without Ferguson's testimony.

Franklin County prosecutor Ron O'Brien said that he is looking into other cases that could be involved.  O'Brien said that so far he has found two civil cases and is reviewing two criminal cases.

The advisor that approved Ferguson's graduation could not be identified.

Stay with 10TV News and 10TV.com for continuing coverage.

Previous Stories:

May 13, 2010:  Former Toxicologist Sentenced For Lying About Credentials
April 28, 2010:  Testimony Of Key Witness Calls Murder Conviction Into Question