COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man freed Tuesday after his murder conviction was overturned thanked what he described as "an army" of supporters who backed his claims of innocence through eight years in prison for the death of a newspaper sports editor.
Ryan Ferguson was released Tuesday after the Missouri attorney general decided not to retry him for the 2001 slaying of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt. His release came one week after a state appeals court panel overturned Ferguson's conviction, saying the prosecutor's office withheld evidence from Ferguson's attorneys and he didn't get a fair trial.
Ferguson's case gained attention because his high school classmate, Chuck Erickson, claimed to have recalled through dreams that he and Ferguson had killed Heitholt during a late-night robbery after a Halloween of partying. Erickson has since recanted his testimony but is still in prison.
Ferguson, 29, rode to freedom from the Boone County jail in the backseat of his father's car — a black sedan emblazoned with a large photo of Ferguson and the words "Wrongfully Convicted. Time for Justice. FREE RYAN."
He then traveled to a news conference that resembled an election night watch party, with dozens of supporters jubilantly awaiting his arrival on stage at a hotel ballroom. Ferguson, wearing blue jeans and a gray sweater over a white-collared shirt, walked into the room with a big smile and raised his arms in victory in front of a bank of TV cameras. A woman in the audience yelled, "We love you."!
"I feel like Jay Leno," Ferguson said.
He thanked the family, attorneys, what he described as his few remaining high school friends and his many new supporters for backing his quest for freedom.
"To get arrested and to get charged for a crime you didn't commit is incredibly easy, and you lose your life very fast," Ferguson said. "But to get out of prison, it takes an army."