Murder conviction overturned after Missouri man spent a decade in jail
One week ago, the Missouri Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of Ryan Ferguson, 29, in the murder of Colombia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt, after it found that the prosecution withheld evidence favoring his case. Ferguson was released from jail Tuesday evening.
According to AP, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office reviewed the remaining evidence and decided not to pursue a retrial.
"I did not believe it until they took the shackles off me in Boone County Jail and I was able to hug my mother," Ferguson said to CNN Wednesday morning."It was incredibly scary and it was very stressful for the last two hours before that.”
In a press conference, Ferguson said he believes the real killer will be found, and looked forward to restarting his life now that he’s free.
“I'm ready for anything, really," he said, according to Reuters.
Heitholt was killed in the Daily Tribune’s parking lot back in 2001. At the time of the editor’s death, Ferguson and his high school classmate Chuck Erickson were drinking at a club, where Erickson became drunk and blacked out. Years later, Erickson could reportedly remember dreaming about killing Heitholt along with Ferguson. He confessed to the crime, pled guilty, and testified against Ferguson in return for a shorter sentence.
Since then, however, Erickson has recanted his testimony, explaining in court in 2012 that he was a heavy drinker and drug user and “had originally been persuaded by police and media accounts into believing he was guilty." Erickson said he no longer was sure of his own involvement and was adamant that Ferguson did not do it.
Ferguson was convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in 2005. He had been serving a 40-year sentence at the time of his release. Erickson is currently serving a 25-year sentence.
Upon seeing his friends and family Tuesday night, Ferguson thanked all of them for their support throughout the process.
"To get arrested and to get charged for a crime you didn't commit is incredibly easy, and you lose your life very fast," he said. "But to get out of prison, it takes an army."