A thirst for justice and a hunger for freedom was quenched with a cold beer and steak last night after Ryan Ferguson was released from a Missouri state prison after serving 10 years of his 40 year sentence.
Ferguson was convicted of first-degree murder in 2005 after a false confession by a friend implicated him in an unsolved murder of a sports reporter at a local newspaper in Columbia, Missouri.
I first met Ryan when I sat down for a one-on-one interview with him in 2009 while reporting for Columbia’s KOMU-TV. I was only 22-years-old at the time and I remember feeling overwhelmed walking into a high security prison with the barbed wire looped around the building, hallways and sidewalks.
The only thing that settled my fear was looking into Ryan’s eyes and knowing that the emotions I was feeling at the time were nothing in comparison to what this young man, around my own age, has been through.
I first decided to interview Ryan after his “friend,” Charles Erickson, released a taped deposition from jail saying he made up the whole confession several years prior, which landed he and Ferguson behind bars.
I was the first news reporter to get my hands on the deposition video from the Western District Court of Appeals in Kansas City, Missouri. I remember driving down I-70 to make the 6 p.m. newscast to break the story that would ultimately change the course of this case.
I wasn’t the only one who felt overwhelmed by the meeting.
The security guard approached me after Ryan left the interview and told me she knew he was innocent.
She said that working in a prison, you can tell who is guilty and who is not.
She said without wavering: “That one, he is innocent.”
Four years later, the court realized he was innocent.
Kathleen Zellner, Ferguson’s attorney, filed a petition asserting the state attorney, Kevin Crane, committed Brady violations by not handing over exculpatory evidence to the defense during Ryan’s original trial.
The court agreed with Zellner and released Ryan Wednesday from the Boone County Courthouse - the same place where he was found guilty of first-degree murder nearly a decade ago.
The tone of Ryan’s voice from that initial interview I had with him was one of frustration with a sliver of hope.
He thanked his father for continuing to fight for his innocence because there’s only so much he could do from behind bars.