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      Remembering murder victim Kent Heitholt

      Murder victim Kent Heitholt

      Kent Heitholt was a friend of mine.

      He was a big, gregarious, generous man with a quick smile and an even quicker wit.

      And when I say big, I mean big ... he was 6-foot-3, 300 pounds of really good guy.

      To know Kent was to like him. To work with him was to like him.

      To know him is to miss him.

      He wasn't as easy as Sunday morning, he was easier.

      Kent was the sports editor at the Columbia Tribune on Halloween night, 2001. He left work at 2 a.m. on Nov. 1 and stopped to feed a stray cat in the newspaper parking lot. This was his routine.

      He was killed minutes later.

      Kent was 48, married, the father of two.

      "I was sick, it just made me absolutely sick," said another of Kent's countless friends, KRCG sports director Rod Smith. "I couldn't believe it was somebody I'd known for so many years ... I just couldn't believe I wouldn't see him at the next Missouri media day.

      "And I just couldn't believe I couldn't read his writing anymore, because he was a fantastic writer, too."

      Those in our profession don't work banker's hours. We start our days late and end them much later.

      "To think about the way he died is just horrible to me," Smith said. "Because I know he, like you and me, have worked many late-night hours coming out of our building, and we're alone.

      "I've thought about that more than once."

      Rod had the pleasure of playing golf with Kent, as did I.

      "I had the chance to play golf with him a few times," Smith said with a smile. "He wasn't very good, but he was such a fun guy to be around. A funny guy, a great sense of humor.

      "I remember us talking about our kids. My kids at that time were pretty young and his were a little bit older than mine. But that's what we talked about, our kids, we didn't talk that much about sports."

      Rod Smith is nicer than I am. When he said Heitholt "wasn't very good," that's nice, but not really accurate. He was awful.

      But the worse Kent played, the bigger his smile grew.

      Shanks for the memories.

      "I'd like to see Tiger Woods do THAT!," I remember him saying, with a grin bigger than his 6-3, 300-pound frame.

      The "old" press box at Faurot Field, which was retired after last season, had a plaque on media row where Kent always sat. To my knowledge, it always remained vacant.

      Even if it was standing-room only, Kent's chair remained untouched.

      Which brings us to Tuesday, as Ryan Ferguson's conviction of killing Heitholt has been overturned. Personally, I don't think Ferguson did it and I'm hardly alone.

      The details of this case are well-documented. We will not go into them here.

      "It's bittersweet," Smith said. "I would feel terrible to think that somebody spent more than nine years in prison for something they didn't do. At the same time, I don't know who did it."

      This has been a tragic story from the start, that Halloween night in 2001. The death of a good man, the conviction of a seemingly innocent man.

      And the fact that somebody, it appears, has gotten away with murder.

      So very sad, so very heart-breaking.

      Kent's obituary in 2001 ended with this ...

      "Kent was a kind man, a friend to all who knew him, and an animal lover known for keeping cat food is his car to feed a stray cat that lived around the newspaper offices. He touched many lives during his life and career and is missed by many."

      He is indeed.

      We should never forget how this all started.