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Ryan Ferguson on life out of prison: 'It will be incredible'

November 13, 2013|By Matt Pearce
  • Ryan Ferguson hugs his mother, Leslie Ferguson, during a news conference in Columbia, Mo., after his release from prison.
Ryan Ferguson hugs his mother, Leslie Ferguson, during a news conference… (Nick Schnelle / The Columbia…)

Ryan Ferguson spent almost a decade trying to get his 2005 murder conviction thrown out. He spent his first morning as a free man in Columbia, Mo., on Wednesday giving TV interviews about his struggle.

"I don’t think they [my emotions] have caught up to me yet. It’s amazing," Ferguson, 29, told CBS' Charlie Rose. "You know, it’s quite early in the morning, I haven’t really had the opportunity to experience the day yet. But I know as it unfolds there will be new adventures and it will be incredible. So definitely looking forward to getting into the day."

Ferguson was freed from prison Tuesday evening, hours after Missouri's attorney general, Chris Koster, conceded that prosecutors did not have enough evidence to mount another trial against Ferguson.

Ferguson's conviction for the fatal 2001 beating and strangling of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt was thrown out by a state appeals court last week on the grounds that the prosecution had wrongfully withheld evidence from Ferguson's attorneys that could have helped his case at trial.

Ferguson's freedom was also secured with the help of the two key witnesses who recently recanted their trial testimonies that Ferguson was at the scene of the crime.

One of them was a friend, Charles Erickson, who implicated Ferguson in the killing after claiming to have dreamlike visions of the attack that he first remembered two years after the slaying. The pair were both 17 years old in 2001 and had been out drinking the night of the attack.

With no more credible witnesses against Ferguson, there was no more case to pursue and no grounds to keep him imprisoned, prosecutors ultimately conceded. This resulted in Ferguson's freedom, though not a declaration of outright innocence, as prosecutors still have the ability to charge Ferguson again for the killing.

Erickson pleaded guilty in the killing in exchange for a lighter sentence, testifying that he helped Ferguson kill Heitholt. Ferguson has told reporters and supporters that he thinks his friend is also innocent. No physical evidence ever connected Ferguson and Erickson to the crime scene.

"Mr. Erickson was used, that’s pure and simple. It’s easy to see that by looking at the facts," Ferguson told Rose. "There needs to be accountability for the way he was used, and there’s multiple cases where other individuals have been kind of pushed into false confessions."

In another interview on CNN, Ferguson said he thinks officials would have a strong suspect to examine in Heitholt's murder. Filings by his legal team have previously implicated Columbia Daily Tribune reporter Michael Boyd, who was the last person known to see Heitholt alive before the attack. Boyd has denied the allegations.

"I think the facts show clearly who did it," Ferguson said on CNN. "You know, I'm not going to throw names out there.  But anyone who takes the time to look at the evidence, I think it will become obvious to them who that individual is."

After telling a crowd Tuesday night that the first thing he wanted to do as a free man was get some Dairy Queen, Ferguson's to-do list was a little more prosaic by Wednesday morning.

"I need to get clothes," Ferguson said on CBS. "It’s really just the basic things, the fundamentals, the things that people overlook on a daily basis. I need to build my life back."


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