COLUMBIA, Mo. — Ryan Ferguson spent years behind bars, falsely accused of killing a Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt. On Tuesday, Ferguson’s fight for freedom finally came to a successful end. Ferguson has maintained his innocence and looks to put his newly vacated convictions behind him to face a future of possibilities.
With attorney Kathleen Zellner by his side, Ferguson entered a press conference at Columbia’s Tiger Hotel to thunderous applause. It’s a day he wasn’t sure would come at times and, according to his attorney, he wasn’t expecting it this soon.
“They put his clothes on him. He wasn’t handcuffed. Then the guards were milling around and then unbelievably, the warden came in and said, ‘We have another court order, you gotta to take those clothes off and put back on his orange jump suit,’” Zellner said.
But he was finally able to walk out a free man around 6 p.m. Back in 2005 he faced conviction for first-degree robbery and second-degree murder in the death of Heitholt, whose body was found strangled outside of his newspaper’s offices in 2001.
While Ferguson has always said he didn’t do it, he served nearly 10 years behind bars before an appeals court vacated his convictions. The court said prosecutors withheld evidence from defense attorneys and two key witnesses recanted their testimonies.
“I can get back to living my life, although I don’t think I know yet how that feels,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson talked glowingly about the support from his family and true friends.
“It’s real difficult in the beginning, knowing that you’re innocent and everyone you knew and talked to, they’re not talking to you. And you don’t know what they think or what they feel,” Ferguson said.
But with his newly found freedom, Ferguson says he’s up for anything now, including helping others who feel they’ve been wrongly convicted. There has been no comment from the prosecutor in Boone County about Ferguson’s release or the appeals court decision.
Ferguson thanked many supporters who wrote to him in jail and aided his family in the quest for his freedom. At one point Ferguson commented he was happier for his parents than he was for himself, because his case had put them through a substantial ordeal.