JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX) – Eight years after he was convicted in the murder of a Columbia sports writer, Ryan Ferguson has been ordered to go free.
Ferguson was 17-years-old when Columbia Tribune editor Kent Heithold was strangled in the newspaper’s parking lot on November 1, 2001. Two years later, Charles Erickson admitted his involvement in the murder and implicated Ferguson.
In 2005, Ferguson was convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery.
Ferguson’s case has been featured on a number of national programs after eye-witnesses in the case recanted their story. A “Free Ryan Ferguson” Facebook page was launched in 2004 and had garnered 70,000 likes.
The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District ruled this morning that Ferguson did not receive a fair trial and ordered his convictions vacated.
“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’s 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 implicating Ferguson.
“The question is not whether Ferguson would more likely than not have received a difference verdict with the evidence, but whether in its absence he received a fair trial resulting in a verdict worthy of confidence,” Judge Martin wrote.
“The undisclosed evidence renders Ferguson’s verdict not worthy of confidence,” Martin added.
Ferguson was serving a 40-year sentence in the Jefferson City Correctional Center. It wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday if state prosecutors would elect to retry him.