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Murder trial underway for father of missing 9-year-old Christian Ferguson

Dawan Ferguson was charged with the murder of his special needs son Christian, who has been missing since 2003. His body has never been found.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Prosecutors said Dawan Ferguson lied about being carjacked while trying to take his special needs son to the hospital in June 2003, instead killing him just hours before and disposing of the body at location that remains unknown to this day.

His defense attorney said Dawan Ferguson was a loving and caring father, who had custody of his 9-year-old son and was despised by the child’s mother who would stop at nothing to see him convicted of their child’s murder.

That’s how opening statements unfolded on the first day of Dawan Ferguson’s first-degree murder trial for the death of his son Christian.

Dawan Ferguson was charged in 2019 with first-degree murder and abuse of a child resulting in death. His son had a rare metabolic disorder that prevented his body from processing protein. When he disappeared in 2003, he could not walk or talk and would have died within 48 hours without proper medication, according to court documents.

Assistant St. Louis County Prosecutor John Schlesinger told jurors they would hear evidence showing Dawan Ferguson’s car was parked where police found it after he made the carjacking allegation for hours before he ever called for help, and that he boasted to a lover that no one would ever find the body.

Dawan Ferguson’s public defender Jemia Steele told the jury many of the state’s witnesses have been influenced by Christian’s mother, Theda Person.

“The state has a lot of suggestions, rumors, innuendos, but they don’t have any evidence,” Steele said.

Person, was the state’s first witness. Steele struggled to get through her cross-examination as Schlesinger objected to nearly every one of Steele’s questions.

Judge Brian May had multiple bench conferences with both sides as prosecutors argued Dawan Ferguson is the one on trial, not his ex-wife, and, that Steele was trying to introduce hearsay conversations as evidence.

May instructed the jury to disregard several of her questions and granted nearly all of the prosecution’s objections.

Despite the interruptions, Steele did establish how Theda Person had a “challenging” relationship with her other child — known as Connor — at the time of Christian’s disappearance, and how she sometimes refused to come to some of her visits with her children. Connor is now known as Theda Person’s daughter, Lin.

Prosecutors said Lin would testify about how she heard a struggle between her brother and father the night before her father reported her brother went missing.

Prosecutors also devoted time during opening statements to outlining Christian’s medical problems, including how he was a virtually normal kid until January 2001 when he slipped into a coma due to a lack of proper care that left him unable to walk, talk or feed himself and that in-home nurses would testify that Dawan Ferguson neglected to properly feed his son, medicate him or bathe him.

In her opening statement, Steele said Christian’s condition made him incontinent so he often smelled like urine.

On the morning in question, Steele said her client noticed his son “wasn’t doing well” and that his cellphone had run out of minutes. So he used a pay phone on Page Boulevard near the border of St. Louis and Wellston to call ahead to the hospital to tell them he was bringing his son there as he often did to prepare them for their arrival.

Steele said while the car was idling near him, he saw it suddenly drive off.

Police found the SUV two hours later, on Ronbar Lane in Ferguson – but there was no sign of Christian.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell charged Dawan Ferguson with his son’s murder 16 years after Christian's disappearance, even though the child’s body has never been found.

Prosecutors said they have new evidence in the trial, including witnesses who felt coerced not to testify who now say they are willing to speak.

The state called five more witnesses Monday afternoon – including two home healthcare workers, a woman who filled requests for Christian’s nutritional supplies and a dietician who worked with Christian just months before his disappearance.

Prosecutors focused on how the home health care workers saw Christian wearing the same clothes they left him in from their previous shifts. One woman said Christian’s feeding tube had fallen out of his stomach and was on the floor when she arrived for work one Monday morning. She had seen it in his stomach as it should be two days before that.

Steele pressed her about being a mandated reporter, meaning she was obligated to report any abuse or neglect to the state. The nurse said she reported it to the agency she worked for, and that was how she thought she needed to report her concerns.

Another home healthcare nurse told the court she tried to order more formula for Christian, but was told he had not been seen by a doctor in a year. That nurse scheduled and took Christian to an appointment with his geneticist, who discovered he had lost four to five pounds.

Prosecutors focused heavily on Dawan Ferguson's absence at that appointment.

Steele noted how doctors discovered a “miscommunication” had occurred between the home healthcare nurse and nutritionist and Christian was not being given the right amount of food through his feeding tube.

Prosecutors argued the discrepancy should not have caused the weight loss.

The final witness of the day was Theda Person’s sister, Sharon William. Steele called her a “go-between” for Theda Person and Dawan Ferguson.

William said Dawan Ferguson said her sister would only get to see her children, “over his dead body,” two days before the hearing in which Dawan Ferguson was ordered to resume his children’s visits with his ex-wife.

Steele asked why William had never told the FBI about that statement. 

Dawan Ferguson had stopped scheduling visits with Theda Person following a March 2003 visit in which she took him to the hospital, concerned that he was lethargic and his ammonia levels were getting too high.

Steele criticized Person for spending her short visitation time with her son by taking him to the hospital. May scolded her for her comment and ordered the jury to disregard it. 

At every mention of Christian having contact with medical providers -- whether because his mother took him or the geneticist was concerned about his weight loss -- she noted how he was not hospitalized. 

5 On Your Side will livestream Dawan Ferguson's trial this week on 5+. Download for free on Roku or Amazon Fire TV.

Dawan Ferguson was also charged with two counts of rape, two counts of statutory sodomy and second-degree child molestation after police say between May 2008 and 2010, he sexually assaulted a child younger than 14, and that victim became pregnant and had a child. Police say he continued to assault the victim between May 2010 and 2013 when the victim was younger than 17 years old, according to court documents.

Police said he sexually abused another victim, who was younger than 17, between September 2000 and 2003, according to court documents.

His trial date for those charges has been set for Aug. 1.

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