After sitting behind bars for almost 10 years based on testimony that came from someone’s dreams, Ryan Ferguson’s dream of freedom finally came true yesterday.
A week ago, his 2005 murder conviction was thrown out when an appeals court found that Missouri prosecutors withheld evidence that cast doubt on testimony of a key witness. Ferguson was freed once the state’s attorney general, Chris Koster, reviewed the evidence against Ferguson and found that he had none.
Koster announced that Ferguson (pictured) would not be retried, at which point, he was free to resume his life.
Ferguson’s case, his lawyer said, received support from “thousands, probably millions of people, directly and indirectly.” Ferguson thanked his backers after being granted his freedom yesterday.
“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 in a press conference. “But to get out of prison, it takes an army.”
His attorney, Kathleen Zeller, estimated that her firm spent more than $1.1 million to free Ferguson, even when all hope seemed lost, but that she and her associates did the pro bono work “gladly.”
In 2005, Ferguson and a high school classmate were convicted of the 2001 robbing, beating and strangling the sports editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune newspaper, Kent Heithold. The murder went unsolved until Charles Erickson, Ferguson’s classmate, said that he dreamed about the killing, which he said that he and Ferguson committed together.
Erickson struck a plea agreement that gave him a 25-year sentence in exchange for his testimony against Ferguson, who was sent to prison for a 40-year term.
Erickson later recanted his entire testimony. He said that his heavy drug and alcohol use had caused him to falsely recall the crime, but that what he thought were memories actually came from news accounts of the brutal crime. While he said that he was no longer sure that he killed Heithold, he was definite when it came to exonerating Ferguson.
There was only one other witness against Ferguson — and no physical evidence tying him or Erickson to the crime.
Tribune janitor Jerry Trump testified that he saw the two high school students in the newspaper building’s parking lot the night that Heithold was slain.
Trump later testified under oath that he had committed perjury. He originally said that he had identified Ferguson based on a newspaper article given to him his wife, Barbara.
But Barbara Trump told prosecutors that she did not recall every giving her husband that article. Prosecutors failed to disclose her statement to the defense team.
It was on the basis of the withheld evidence that an appeals court overturned Ferguson’s conviction.
Sources: Fox News, New York Daily News, Columbia Daily Tribune, NBC News