Ryan Ferguson is finally a free man. The Missouri attorney general declined Tuesday to retry him for the 2001 murder of a Columbia newspaper editor, the Kansas City Star reports. This followed a ruling from the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals: “We conclude that Ferguson did not receive a fair trial. His verdict is not worthy of confidence.”
Ferguson, now 29, was a teenager when he was arrested for the murder of Columbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt in 2004. Attorney General Chris Koster said he will not be retried for a murder he maintains he didn’t commit, and on Tuesday just after 6 p.m. he took his first steps as a free man after spending nearly a decade behind bars at the Jefferson City Correctional Center.
Ferguson’s family and friends, especially his father Bill, have maintained his innocence and tirelessly faught for his released since Ferguson was placed behind bars. But how did an innocent man wind up incarcerated in the first place?
Former friend Charles Erickson implicated Ferguson in the murder. He was the same friend who said Ferguson had dreamlike memories of the crime, but then Erickson changed his story and said he lied in court. Another “witness,” a janitor, who said he saw the then-teen at the scene of the crime, came forward and said he also lied. No physical evidence tied either man to the crime, but Erickson is still serving 25 years for armed criminal action and second-degree murder, Columbia Tribune wrote.
After being released, Ferguson thanked his supporters. “It's been very helpful to my family,” he said of the support, according to Columbia Tribune. “I’m happier for my parents right now than I am for me. They’ve had to deal with so much.”
As for Erickson, Ferguson didn’t have much to say other than he too does not belong behind bars. “The guy’s a lot of things, but the thing he is more so than anything else is innocent,” Ferguson said. “He doesn’t belong in prison. He’s not a killer, and he doesn’t belong in prison.”