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Ryan Ferguson freed after conviction in editor's death overturned

6:32 AM, Nov 13, 2013   |    comments
Ryan Ferguson addresses the crowd during his news conference. KSDK
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COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The Ferguson family held a news conference Tuesday night at the Tiger Hotel in Columbia, Mo.

Earlier this month, 29-year-old Ryan Ferguson's murder conviction was overturned. An appeals court said Ferguson did not get a fair trial because prosecutors withheld evidence from defense attorneys.

On Tuesday afternoon, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced the state would not re-try Ferguson for the 2001 murder of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.

Ferguson's current attorney, Kathleen Zellner, approached the podium to cheers from the crowd that had gathered at the hotel.

"I know you really want to hear from Ryan, so I'm not going to talk too long," she said.

She said that when she got to the Jefferson City Correctional Center, Ryan thought he was being sent to "the hole." She held up a piece of paper to the glass window which said "IT IS OVER."

Zellner said Ferguson was then taken to another room where he was allowed to change into street clothes. A short time later the warden came in and said, "We have another court order. Take off your clothes and put on your orange jumpsuit." She said that even though he was faced with this tough setback, he handled it maturely and with grace.

Ferguson was then transferred to the Boon County Jail. He thought he was going to be re-arrested, but he was able to change back into his street clothes and leave the jail with his family and attorney.

When Zellner introduced Ferguson to the room, the crowd cheered.

"We love you Ryan!" one person yelled.

"Thank you. It's like Jay Leno or something," he joked.

Ferguson said the day was filled with a lot of emotions, but the hard part is over. He thanked his parents, saying they're "the most amazing parents you could ever have." He said without them he wouldn't have had any hope.

He also thanked his supporters, who had been there since the first day, and everyone who has written to him.

"It's been amazing seeing the support," said Ferguson. "I would not be here today without my family and Kathleen Zellner, and Doug [Johnson]."

Ferguson said that he was scared because he wasn't sure what would happen next. He also thanked Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster for looking at all of the facts and "doing the right thing." He said this is the first time he's been listened to by the justice system and proceeded to thank the judges who spent time reviewing the facts of the case.

"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."

A reporter asked him how confused he was on Tuesday.

"I'm still confused. The last couple of hours were hard," said Ferguson.

He said was difficult to put the orange jumpsuit back on when he was waiting to be released. He was shackled as he was transported to the Boon County Jail, and he was afraid of being re-arrested.

"It's not over until it's over," he said.

When asked how he characterizes his whole experience, he said, "a struggle, pure and simple." He said he's happier for his parents than he is for himself because of how much they've had to deal with.

As for what he wants to eat first as a free man? "Dairy Queen," he said.

Zellner then re-approached the podium and spoke about what a remarkable person he is. Ferguson said he had to stay level-headed in prison and not let his emotions take control.

Ferguson says he wrote a book while in prison, and it's nearly finished. He didn't want to get out of prison and still be a 19-year-old kid in his mind, so he wrote the book so he would have opportunities. He says he can see himself teaming up with his father to advocate on behalf of others in similar situations.

When asked about Charles Erickson, the man who originally accused him of murder, and then later recanted, Ferguson says he's not sure how he feels about him.

"I know he's not a killer. He doesn't belong in prison," said Ferguson.

Erickson claimed he remembered through dreams that he and Ferguson killed Heitholt during a robbery. He later said he lied under oath and remains in prison.

Ferguson's sister then showed up, running onto the stage to give Ryan a big hug.

"We're either going to go to Dairy Queen or ring the bell at the courthouse. We're outta here," said Zellner.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.


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