Eight years after being convicted in the murder of Columbia sports writer, Ryan Ferguson has been ordered to be set free. Ferguson was 19 when Columbia Tribune editor Kent Heithold was strangled to death in the parking lot of the newspaper building on November 1, 2001. Two years later, Charles Erickson claimed he was involved in the death based upon news reports and implicated his friend Ryan Ferguson. It was a bizarre admission; Charles Erickson claimed to have dreamed about killing the man, but knew none of the details.
In 2005, a jury convicted Ferguson of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery. Four years later, Erickson recanted his testimony. Ferguson’s case has been the subject of many national programs, including 48 hours due to his possible wrongful convictions. The Missouri Court of Appeals of the Western District ruled this morning that Ferguson did not receive a fair trial and vacated his convictions.
“Under the facts and circumstances of this case, we conclude that Ferguson did not receive a fair trial,” Judge Cynthia Martin wrote in a summary of the ruling, “His verdict is not worthy of judicial or public confidence.”
Ferguson has always maintained his innocence. His attorneys argued that prosecutors had violated his rights to a fair trial by withholding evidence from an interview with the wife of Jerry Trump, a key witness for the prosecution. Trump later recanted his testimony that implicated Ferguson.
“The question is not whether Ferguson would more likely than not have received a different verdict with the evidence, but whether in its absence he received a fair trial resulting in a verdict worthy of confidence,” Judge Martin wrote.
Ferguson was sentenced to 40-years in the Jefferson City Correctional Center. It is not clear whether the state will retry him.
- WATCH: 48 Hours: The Accuser | Extras
- READ: The Midwest Innocence Project’s Amicus Brief In Support of Ferguson’s Petition