CLAYTON, Mo. – The trial of a St. Louis County man accused of killing his 9-year-old disabled son began with a contentious day in court, marked by numerous objections and visits to the bench by prosecutors and defense attorneys.
The disappearance of Christian Ferguson made headlines in St. Louis for several years. His father, Dawan Ferguson, was charged with first-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death in October 2019. Those charges were briefly dismissed in mid-October 2020 but refiled within 24 hours.
Prosecutors allege Dawan neglected Christian, of whom he had legal custody, to the point that the child’s health deteriorated. The child needed around-the-clock care. Prosecutors said Dawan eventually killed Christian and disposed of the boy’s body.
On the morning of June 11, 2003, Dawan Ferguson called 911 from a pay phone outside a gas station at Page and Skinker to report someone had carjacked his SUV with Christian still inside the vehicle. Police found the SUV hours later but not Christian. Court documents said Christian would have died within 48 hours without his proper medication.
Christian was born with a genetic disorder of one’s metabolism called citrullinemia, which means the body produces more ammonia in the blood. As a result, the boy needed to be on medications and could only ingest a minuscule amount of protein in his daily diet.
Christian Ferguson was never found. He was 9. The boy has since been presumed dead.
Jurors heard from a number of witnesses from the prosecution, including nurses who had tended to Christian at Dawan’s home some 20 years ago.
Prosecutors said Christian was able to live a mostly normal, though challenged, life. Theda Person, Christian’s mother, testified that her son used to be able to walk and talk on his own, and could feed himself by hand. That was before January 2001.
Person said she and Dawan Ferguson had been instructed to be aware of signs Christian was in medical distress and to seek immediate help in such an event.
On Jan. 16, 2001, prosecutors said Christian was in his father’s custody when he began vomiting. Rather than take his son to the hospital that night, they claim Dawan put his boy to bed and took him to the hospital the following day. As a result, Theda said Christian was left with a brain injury and became disabled.
Christian received additional care from at-home nurses, one of whom testified that she routinely found the boy in unsanitary conditions while in Dawan Ferguson’s custody.
“He would be dirty and smelly; always happy to see me though,” said Trudell Overby, a licensed nurse. “He always had diapers on him that had been on him for a while, and you could tell because urine would even be in his shoes.”
Overby said she’d find Christian in dirty clothes, that he hadn’t been bathed in some time, and he was wearing dirty diapers. She told the court she would bring Christian to her home where she’d bathe him, put him in fresh clothes, and fit him with a new diaper. She’d often return the next day for a new shift and find the child in the same clothes with the same diaper, now dirty.
The nurse also testified that Christian took most of his nutrition via formula through a feeding tube. She’d prepare the formula and leave it at the house for Dawan to give to Christian. She’d also leave proper doses of medications for Christian. She said she’d return the following day and see the formula and medication had not been given to Christian.
During cross-examination, the defense pointed out the at-home nurse was a mandated reporter, meaning she was legally required to go to authorities if she ever observed or suspected child abuse; the inference being that Christian had not been the victim of abuse.
Another nurse testified Monday that she feared Dawan while she had been caring for Christian in 2003. Dawan had been employed as a bounty hunter at the time.
Meanwhile, Theda had visitation rights to Christian and another child she had with Dawan Ferguson. She testified that on March 22, 2003, she brought Christian to a hospital because he appeared in poor health and took photos of her son.
Afterward, prosecutors said Dawan did not bring Christian to scheduled doctor appointments nor did he take the boy to his legally-mandated visitations with his mother. This went on for weeks and months. As a result, Theda went to the local family court to have her visitations restored. The hearing in family court took place on June 9, 2003, two days before Christian went missing.
Defense attorney Jemia Steele said Theda and Dawan had a troubled relationship and, as a result, Theda had it out for Dawan and was looking to file police reports against him.
On the day of the disappearance, Dawan called the police just after 6:05 a.m. to report the carjacking and his missing son. Police found the vehicle—a maroon 1999 Ford Expedition—around 7:50 a.m. on Ronbar Lane, not far from the site of the reported carjacking.
However, prosecutors said residents on Ronbar Lane reported seeing the Expedition parked on the street at least an hour before the car was reported stolen.
Later this week, Christian’s own sibling is expected to take the stand and testify that she heard her brother being killed in another room on the morning of June 11, 2003.
It’s unknown if Dawan Ferguson will take the stand on behalf of his own defense.
Dawan Ferguson remains jailed on a $5 million bond. He’s also charged with statutory rape and child molestation in another case. Prosecutors allege Dawan fathered a child with a girl under the age of 14. That trial is set for August.