CLAYTON, Mo. — Monica Mitchell’s ex-husband Dawan Ferguson has been charged with sexually assaulting two of her relatives.
So, when she walked in a courtroom Thursday to testify for his defense in a murder trial involving his 9-year-old son, the judge warned him of the risk.
“Should she say something, and we don’t anticipate that she or anyone else will, about the other case, we cannot declare a mistrial because she is testifying for the defense,” Judge Brian May said.
Nothing did come up about the sexual assault case while Mitchell was on the stand, and she denied ever having admitted to the child’s murder to one of the prosecution’s witnesses.
She was one of four witnesses Ferguson’s public defenders called to the stand before resting their case just hours after the state concluded its case.
Jurors are expected to hear closing arguments Friday and begin their deliberations.
Prosecutors called more than 30 witnesses during the past 3 and a half days, which have included numerous sidebars among the attorneys and the judge following objections to the defense’s leading questioning of the state’s witnesses.
Dawan Ferguson was charged with first-degree murder in 2019 – about 15 years after his son Christian Ferguson disappeared.
Dawan Ferguson told police on June 10, 2003 that he was taking his son to the hospital and stopped to use a payphone to call ahead and alert doctors that he was bringing his son there. He told police he saw his car, a maroon Expedition, drive off while he was on the phone and while his son was still in the back seat.
Christian has never been seen since.
He suffered from a rare genetic disorder that prevented him from processing protein and causing dangerous levels of ammonia to build up in his system.
The state called his geneticist, Dr. Dorothy Grange, to the stand Thursday. She said the child would have died within 24 to 48 hours without his medication and added that the disease was manageable with a strict diet and medications.
She described how a spike in ammonia caused Christian to go into a coma when he was 7 years old that left him unable to walk, talk or feed himself as he had done before. He regained some of those functions before he disappeared, but still had a feeding tube and developmental delays.
Prosecutors argued Dawan Ferguson failed to properly manage his care, and that led to the coma and 6-month hospitalization.
The doctor said she wanted to see Christian every three months after that but went almost a year without seeing him before he vanished.
She said he had also lost weight and did not grow during that time period – which she said she would have expected him to do had he been getting proper nutrition.
The defense asked whether children with the disorder could be delayed in growth due to other factors. She said it was possible, but she told prosecutors on re-direct that her staff ruled out any other potential cause of weight loss such as an illness.
The defense also focused heavily on how she could not tell whether Christian died as the result of any neglect or abuse because the only way to do so would be to test tissues from his body – which has never been found.
That argument is key to the case – which is purely circumstantial.
Can prosecutors prove Christian died as the result of neglect on the part of his father without having a body?
Prosecutors called Santana Contraes as their last witness. Contraes said she once worked with Mitchell at a women’s clothing store, and that Mitchell asked her to be in a polyamorous relationship with her and her then husband, Dawan Ferguson.
Contraes said she overhead the couple talking inside her apartment one day, and heard Dawan Ferguson say, “the boy was dead before the phone call was made,” and that the body “was buried in the foundation of a home.”
She said she was so afraid after hearing the discussion that she quit her job, never saw the couple again, changed her name and moved out-of-state.
She said gifts that included sex toys and lingerie would show up at her apartment in St. Louis from the Fergusons and continued to show up after she moved.
But she never told the police about it – a point defense attorneys seized on.
“I was terrified,” she said. “These people had just admitted to me a heinous act basically and I didn't know what they were capable of. I was a single mother of a son. So yeah, I was scared.”
Contraes cried on the stand recalling how she wrote her mother a letter detailing what she knew and told her mother to only read it if something bad happened to her so she would “know who did it.”
She also claimed she told a supervisor who worked at the clothing store about the conversation. That supervisor was one of the defense’s witnesses, who said that conversation never took place.
“How can you be sure?” Assistant Public Defender Jemia Steele asked.
“Because I would have called the police,” she said.
Mitchell said she didn’t recall the woman’s name but said she and her husband had an open marriage.
She also denied telling Christian’s then younger brother, Connor, that she knew Christian’s feeding tube had fallen out of his stomach the day before he vanished.
Connor, now known as Lin Ferguson, testified earlier this week that she remembered Mitchell and her father taking Christian out of the room she shared with him and hearing a struggle in another room before her brother fell silent. She said she remembered seeing her father carry her brother to his car wrapped in a blanket.
The defense called Dawan Ferguson’s former defense attorney John Rogers to the stand to read a transcript of his interview with then Connor, in which the 12-year-old told the attorney he thought his father took good care of his brother.
Part of that transcript included: “Did you ever see your father mistreat Christian?”
“Withhold food from Christian?”
“Threaten Christian verbally? Or strike him?”
“What is your opinion of the care your father provided?”
“He provided the best care for my brother he could and didn’t want him to go into an institution.”
Lin Ferguson testified that she said what she knew her father wanted her to say back then because she was being abused. She sat in the front row alongside her mother, Theda Person, shaking her head as she listened to her stepmother testify and heard her own words recited back to her.
The defense tried to get the case dismissed before it went to the jury, telling the judge the state had not met its burden of proof.
The judge disagreed and explained to Dawan Ferguson he had a right to testify on his own behalf.
Dawan Ferguson said he would like to have a conversation about the decision with someone on a line that would not be recorded or heard by prosecutors, but ultimately told the judge he was waiving his right to testify “on his own free will.”
Just before the defense rested, Steele told the judge Dawan Ferguson would like to have that conversation, and that it could change his mind about testifying.
He denied the request, saying Dawan Ferguson had more than six months to make the decision about whether to testify and had already said he did not want to testify.
Another one of the defense’s witnesses was Dion Dupree, who said he was at a day camp near the payphone Dawan Ferguson used to call police on the day Christian went missing and remembered seeing a maroon truck “speed off.”
Prosecutors called one of their investigators to the stand, who said Dupree had told him he remembered seeing a “brownish gold colored sedan” parked behind his day care.
Prosecutors have alleged Dawan Ferguson used a gold Malibu on the day Christian went missing to get away from his maroon Expedition. Residents who lived on the street where police found the car testified they saw the car parked there before Dawan Ferguson called police to report Christian missing.
The case pending against Dawan Ferguson for the sexual assaults of his ex-wife’s relatives is set for trial later this year.
Prosecutors are expecting her to be there, too.