New trial for Ryan Ferguson on the line with appeals court decision

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Ryan Ferguson

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A Missouri man who has spent the last 10 years in prison for a crime he says he didn't commit may be about to get a new shot at freedom. The two witnesses who were keys to Ryan Ferguson's conviction both later admitted that they'd lied.

As he sat down to talk behind bars in a Missouri prison, he couldn’t hide his optimism.

Ryan Ferguson “Optimism, hope, a little anxiety,” Ferguson said.

Reporter David Mattingly: “There's a lot on the line here for you.”

Ferguson: “My whole life. It's incredibly scary.”

Ferguson is days, maybe hours away from an appeals court ruling that could grant him a new trial and possibly freedom. He was convicted in 2005 of killing Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt thanks to the testimony of two men, who have since admitted that they lied.

Mattingly: “They lied, and you're still in prison?”

Ferguson: “I wish I could explain how that works but it's beyond my comprehension.  You cannot use logic. The moment you start to use logic, you drive yourself crazy.

The biggest problem is the credibility of the man who accused Ferguson in the first place. Charles Erickson, a friend at the time. He's described as a troubled young man who Ferguson supporters say was manipulated into confessing to something he only imagined.

“I don't know. I could be completely assuming all of this,” Erickson said during an interview.

He was also convicted.

“He had no memory of anything happening that night. And so his entire recollection was based off police reports and he made a lot of mistakes even with those,” Ferguson attorney Kathleen Zellner said.

Today there's a ‘Free Ryan Ferguson’ Web site, a Facebook page and a change.org petition signed by more than 235,000 calling for a new trial. It's the work of Ferguson's supportive family.

There was a witness there that I discovered about two years ago,” Ryan’s father, Bill Ferguson, said.

Bill Ferguson has spent years trying to find new evidence.  He recently drove 9,000 miles cross-country in a specially wrapped car to call attention to his son's case.

Mattingly: “Do you get the feeling that all of this work is about to pay off for you?”

Bill Ferguson: “I do, yeah.”

Mattingly: “What does that mean to you?”

Bill Ferguson: “Well after 10 years it's just a relief to know that were just so close to gaining Ryan's freedom.”

Mattingly: “What have you missed the most?”

Ryan Ferguson: “I miss my family, most definitely.”

Mattingly: “This could go either way.”

Ryan Ferguson: “Absolutely.”

Mattingly: “Do you allow yourself to think about being free again?”

Ryan Ferguson: “It's impossible not to think about it.  I have plans, I have dreams, I have goals.”

Mattingly: “What if you lose?”

Ryan Ferguson: “Yeah.  I always try to remain pragmatic I guess and prepare for the worst case scenario and hope for the best.”

Ferguson believes this appeal is his best chance to regain his freedom. If he is denied, he will spend the next 30 years in prison.

Report by CNN’s David Mattingly

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