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Ryan Ferguson exonerated of murder conviction, released after serving nearly 10 years

Ryan Ferguson was exonerated and released from a Missouri jail Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013 after serving nearly 10 years for the 2001 murder of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.
November 13, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
For the first time in nearly a decade, a Missouri man who always claimed he was wrongly convicted of murder is enjoying his first day of freedom.

A judge vacated 29-year-old Ryan Ferguson's murder conviction in connection to the 2001 slaying of a newspaper editor last week. A state appeals court ruled prosecutors withheld evidence and that he didn't get a fair trial.

The 29-year-old had been jailed since 2004 for the robbery and murder of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt. It was a crime, he always said, he didn't commit.

With his arms raised in victory, Ferguson was released from prison Tuesday night. He was greeted with cheers from dozens of supporters at a news conference following his release.

"To get arrested and to get charged with a crime you didn't commit is incredibly easy, and you can lose your life very fast," said Ferguson in front of a bank of TV cameras. "But to get out of prison, it takes an army."

Ferguson made headlines when his high school classmate, Chuck Erickson, claimed to have recalled through dreams that he and Ferguson killed Heitholt in a late-night robbery after partying for Halloween.

Erickson received a 25-year sentence as part of a plea agreement for testifying against Ferguson. At that trial, Erickson said Ferguson had suggested they rob someone to get money for alcohol and that Erickson had hit Heitholt with a metal tire tool before Ferguson strangled Heitholt with the man's own belt.

But during a 2012 court hearing, Erickson said he had been a heavy drug and alcohol user with hazy memories 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 a 17-year-old high school junior at the time of Heitholt's slaying. He was convicted in 2005 and had been serving a 40-year sentence for murder and robbery.

The attorney general's office said Tuesday that it decided not to re-try Ferguson after reviewing the remaining evidence.

Erickson remains jailed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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