Innocent man free after 10 years in prison for murder

Ryan Ferguson arrives Tuesday night, Nov. 12, 2013, at the Tiger Hotel, in Columbia, Mo., to speak to supporters after being freed from prison earlier in the evening. Ferguson was released one week after a state appeals court overturned his murder and robbery convictions in the 2001 slaying of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt. His release followed a decision Tuesday by the Missouri attorney general not to re-try Ferguson. (AP Photo/David A. Lieb)

Ryan Ferguson arrives Tuesday night, Nov. 12, 2013, at the Tiger Hotel, in Columbia, Mo., to speak to supporters after being freed from prison earlier in the evening. (AP Photo/David A. Lieb)

Justice is not blind, or perfect, but sometimes it is perfectly blind.

Ryan Ferguson, 29, was released from a Missouri prison Tuesday night after spending nearly a decade in prison for a murder he knew nothing about.

How did that happen?

Prosecutors and police had a vision of justice and found a suspect having psychotic visions of a brutal, unsolved murder. Mix those ingredients with a fallible jury and Lady Justice’s blindfold falls rather easily to the courtroom floor.

Last week, an appeals court overturned Ferguson’s conviction, saying the prosecutor’s office withheld evidence from his attorneys and that he didn’t get a fair trial. The state of Missouri will not retry the case.

Ferguson was convicted in 2005 for the 2001 beating death of Columbia Tribune sports columnist Kent Heitholt.

Heithold was outside the newspaper offices the night of Halloween when he was brutally beaten. Witnesses saw two suspects and the story got a lot of media attention. Police collected fingerprints and DNA at the crime scene, but after three years the investigation had gone nowhere.

The Tribune published an anniversary story in 2003 about the unsolved crime.

At a New Year’s Eve party in 2003, Chuck Erickson, who Ferguson was partying with on that fateful night in 2001, was overheard telling friends he had vague recollections of being involved in a killing. He repeated this story at other parties he attended in 2004.

One of Erickson’s friends went to police, who picked Erickson up and questioned him. In 52-minutes, police got Erickson to say he beat Heitholt and Ferguson choked him to death.

During the interview police gave Erickson most of the details of the crime.

After the interview, police took Erickson to the newspaper offices and the suspect, on videotape, asked police where Heitholt was actually killed. Police show him the parking spot Heitholt was killed at, and Erickson said “I don’t remember most of what happened.”

Police drove Erickson back to the police station and quizzed him for 22 more minutes. During that interview a detective told Erickson that Ferguson would likely just pin the whole crime on him.

Erickson seemed confused and said he was “trying to base what he remembers on what he’s read” in the newspaper and what police were telling him.

The detective tells Erickson he “doesn’t want to hear that [Erickson] fabricated” his confession.

Erickson pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life. For testifying against Ferguson, that sentence was reduced to 25 years with the possibility of parole in 12 years.

Ferguson was interviewed and said he had no idea what Erickson was talking about, and that he’d never been anywhere near the newspaper offices that night. He asked police if there were fingerprints at the crime scene, and police said yes. Ferguson said “you better get on those” because he knew they couldn’t be his.

There was never any physical evidence linking Erickson or Ferguson to the crime.

But the truth didn’t matter. Police had already gotten their story.

Ferguson was arrested for murder. A judge set bail at $20 million.

At trial, Erickson’s dreams had been transformed into firm conviction.

“I did this. He did this. I didn’t dream anything,” Erickson said during his 2005 testimony.

His testimony matched the police story almost perfectly, except for when he said he saw the victim speaking to a white man before the attack. The alleged white man, a sports writer at the newspaper, is actually black. Police had mistakenly listed the sports writer as being white in their reports.

Ferguson was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Tuesday night, after being released, Ferguson said he spent nine years in prison trying to make himself a better person.

“I didn’t want to be a 19-year-old person in my mind” when released, he said before a throng of media and well-wishers.

Ferguson is not bitter and doesn’t think his case is unique.

“There’s a lot of people incarcerated wrongly,” he said. “A lot of people need help.”

What does he think about Erickson?

“He does not belong in prison. He is innocent. He was used and manipulated … he has been victimized. He’s an innocent man in prison. He’s not a killer.”

And what about Heitholt’s family? Does he have a message for them?

“They’ve been lied to by people they trust.”

The prosecutor in the case, Kevin Crane, disputes suggestions that he attempted to get investigators to manipulate or coerce witnesses.

“That’s a complete fabrication,” Crane, who is now a judge, said in the Kansas City Star. “There was no manipulation, nothing of the kind.”

But don’t lose any sleep over Ryan Ferguson’s years in prison. Nothing like that could possibly happen around here.

Right?

More news liberated from the Interwebs:

CMGd Single Player – AJC


28 comments Add your comment

CBB1

November 13th, 2013
10:43 am

“Police had mistakenly listed Boyd as being white in their reports.” Who is Boyd?

Max

November 13th, 2013
10:45 am

Amazing that people are still being convicted based solely on supposed eyewitness testimony and hearsay with no physical evidence.

Samuel Billups

November 13th, 2013
11:03 am

I hope Wrangler gets this guy into one of its jeans commercials. I could see him right there throwin’ the pigskin with Brett Favre or hanging out, maybe preparing to go deer hunting, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. He looks all-american and could surely use a load of quick, easy cash. Don’t we, as a people, constitutionally-speaking, owe this much to Ryan? The ball is in your court, Wrangler!

George Mathis

November 13th, 2013
11:03 am

Boyd is the man the victim Heitholt was talking to before being killed. I will clarify. Thanks for the comment.

SBinF

November 13th, 2013
11:17 am

And yet we in this country still support the death penalty. This guy only lost ten years of his life….imagine being executed for a crime you did not commit.

[...] releaseNew York Daily NewsMissouri man freed after murder conviction overturnedReutersTIME -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) -Seattle Post Intelligencerall 134 news [...]

The Geezer

November 13th, 2013
11:36 am

A line in the story: Last week, an appeals court overturned Ferguson’s conviction, saying the prosecutor’s office withheld evidence from his attorneys and that he didn’t get a fair trial.

That prosecutor should know that a Texas prosecutor was recently disbarred and sentenced to prison for witholding evidence from a defendant’s attorney. If more prosecutors were jailed for this type of thing then less innocent people would be jailed.

And all citizens should know their 4th and 5th amendment constitutional rights and assert them if they are ever confronted by law enforcement officers.

And never forget the line “Am I free to go?”

Bumper

November 13th, 2013
11:56 am

Almost two hours and no one has connected this story to ObamaCare, but you know it’s coming!

Taylor Swift

November 13th, 2013
12:00 pm

Without ObamaCare, none of this would happened!

I C Crzy People

November 13th, 2013
12:09 pm

This is really something — == but it could’ve been worse. He could’ve been jailed with a person with flatulence problems AND bad breath.

Got to look at the bright side folks.

Mark

November 13th, 2013
12:25 pm

How hard is it to get a retrial even around here? I think of the Waseem Daker case. I don’t know if he’s guilty or not and I am certainly not saying he’s innocent, but it seems that it takes an act of Congress to get a retrial even when primary witnesses recant their testimony. I know Waseem and he is a nice enough guy, doesn’t seem the type.

Mark

November 13th, 2013
12:27 pm

That said, we all know it’s George Bush’s fault!

Johnny Unitas

November 13th, 2013
12:32 pm

Do you think will ever see a spin-off of the TV show “Frasier”? I’d really like to catch up with the character Niles. I wonder, how have he and Daphne been doing in the years since the show ended?

[...] newly freed Mo. man …CBS NewsNew York Daily News -Seattle Post Intelligencer -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)all 152 news articles » Related [...]

Mark

November 13th, 2013
12:45 pm

By the way, my sister’s in-law’s nieces boyfriends aunt made $1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.00 a second by working from home selling junk that everyone never really buys. Contact me yesterday to find out more! Or go to the website http://www.youareanidiot.com/org

partlycloudy

November 13th, 2013
2:04 pm

I’ll play: Many, many guilty people go free than do innocent people get convicted.
I cannot believe that a guy was convicted on the uncorroborated testimony of a co-defendant. In GA, something else has to incriminate the defendant.

Meanwhile, if this guy was innocent, then if the co-worker was the killer, that means that not only did an innocent man get convicted, but a guilty man walked free. The most important thing for a cop and prosecutor to do is get the guilty person, not just anyone. When a gay guy was robbed and killed in Atlanta, and one guy at the DA’s office convicted after a mistrial during a retrial, a lesbian, then that DA turned loose his defendant when another lesbian came forward and said she did it, the father of the victim told me that he just wanted someone in jail for killing his son. I said well sir, I want the person who killed your son in jail, not just anyone. I took the plea on the 2nd lesbian who confessed to the murder. I don’t know if she was covering for the real killer, who had been convicted and then released, or if she did the killing. I would have done things different than the other prosecutor who turned lose the first woman convicted of the murder. No investigation, no work, just one botched trial and then a 2nd one for conviction. He was too anxious to release the first defendant, and too anxious for the 2nd one to confess and go to jail.

Hidden agenda

November 13th, 2013
2:23 pm

“the prosecutor’s office withheld evidence from his attorneys and that he didn’t get a fair trial. ”

So where are the criminal charges against the prosecutor? This is the fundamental problem with the current injustice system we have in america. The prosecutor, the judge, the jury, and in many cases the defense attorney are all paid by the state, and the state gets richer and more powerful with every conviction. It is no longer about the victim (just look at how many people rot in jail for victimless crimes) but has certainly become about how well the prosecutor can enhance his political position, future career, etc. by putting people behind bars regardless of their role in the crime.

There are outstanding solutions, but all of them involve undermining the power of the state, and you know how much they fight that.

Hidden agenda

November 13th, 2013
2:26 pm

How does Obama have even a 30% approval rating? I bet if that worthless website was working and people could really see how high the prices and how high the deductibles are going to be the number would be a lot lower.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution [...]

Steve

November 13th, 2013
5:35 pm

“It is far better that 1000 guilty murderers go free, than for one innocent person to be executed.”

Alice

November 13th, 2013
5:53 pm

I saw his story on ID Discovery last week. I’m glad he was freed. Story made no sense at all! It’s just sad that he wasted ten years of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit. I do hope someone pays for this mistake!

romeo

November 13th, 2013
6:03 pm

HE’S WHITE!!!!!HELL NO!!!!!! Oh wait a minute the black guy who works at the news paper better get a good lawyer he’s next.

politically incorrect

November 13th, 2013
6:23 pm

There is an easy way to prove someone not guilty of murder – find the real murderer. So who killed Heitholt, if not Ferguson? There is a lot of difference between being found “not guilty” ad being found “innocent”. Not guilty often just means enough evidence is not there for a conviction, even if the person really did the crime.

MrLiberty

November 13th, 2013
9:44 pm

The fundamental problem with the focus on conviction is that the prosecutor may feel great, but if that is not the person who committed the crime, then the real criminal is still on the streets potentially ready to harm/kill another.

We must change over to a restitution-based justice system that does not simply throw someone away in prison (thus victimizing the victim again with taxes to pay for their upkeep). We need a system that compensates the victim/victim’s family for the real loss. If criminals had to face the real cost of harm they did to another, it would not only act as a deterent, but when all is said and done, both would be made more “whole” by the process.

In cases like these where exculpatory evidence has been willfully withheld, the DA and everyone responsible should have to serve the full term of the convicted (or maybe even double the term). Prosecutorial misconduct is a serious and widespread problem in this country and it affects everyone, not just people of color. The state is far more concerned with convictions than they are about the truth.

CONCERNED

November 19th, 2013
10:27 am

This is yet another example how innocent people are convicted of crimes they did not do. GA just may be doing the same things as MN with GA’s own Waseem Daker. I read prosecution misconduct, judicial misconduct which was clear to me watching the Judge, key state witness recants testimony. Boy who was attacked in 1995 said the attacker had BLUE eyes. Daker has brown. Victim Karmen Smith was fighting with her ex-husband one week before the murder, the night before the murder and the morning of the murder. He happens to have BLUE eyes. She wanted to take a restraining order out on her ex-husband. She has had problems with current and ex-boyfriends at the time who were threatening to kill her and were harassing her. The Judge would NOT allow Daker to allow the Jurors to hear any of this information. Was justice served in the Waseem Daker case? It doesnt appear so! When a Prosecutor manipulates evidence, withhold evidence, manipulates witnesses and witnesses recant testimony and a judge who SHOWS clear bias behavior, justice can NEVER be served.

Very concerned

November 20th, 2013
11:01 am

I know Loretta Blatz. She feels terrible over her lies during her testimony in 2012. She has suffered from PTSD since 1995 from the trauma. She repeated the same lies she told in 1995 BUT NOT BY MEMORY but rather the PROSECUTOR gave her the information to STUDY before the trial. 1995 was very traumatic for Ms. Blatz. Her 10 year old daughter was just feet away when Nick was grabbed and attacked. The Detectives TOLD Ms. Blatz it was DAKER and he was their to KILL her daughter. She was terrified and wanted to help the detectives put what she was told a killer and someone she thought was out to kill her daughter behind bars. It wasnt till AFTER the 2012 did she process 1995 and in doing so, she has learned WASEEM DAKER IS INNOCENT! Has anyone thought WHY would DAKER want to kill Karmen? Anyone think why the attacker had BLUE eyes and Daker has BROWN. Why dont the detectives believe DAKERS ALIBI but ALL THE OTHER SUSPECTS and there were MANY SUSPECTS in this case! MANY! A couple actually threatened to KILL Karmen and MANY others were harassing her up to the very day she was murdered. SOME WERE EVEN PHYSICALLY ABUSIVE TOWARDS HER. THIS CASE NEEDS NEW DETECTIVES LOOKING INTO THIS. AN INNOCENT MAN SITS BEHIND BARS AND A MURDER IS FREE!

WASEEM DAKER IS INNOCENT

November 20th, 2013
11:11 am

WASEEM DAKER IS INNOCENT! THE TRUTH WILL COME OUT!

INNOCENCE

November 20th, 2013
11:13 am

HOW LOING WILL WASEEM DAKER SIT BEHIND BARS BEFORE HE IS RELEASED?????? HE IS INNOCENT!!!!!! WASEEM IS INNOCENT! WASEEM IS INNOCENT!!!