Imagine something with me for a minute. You’re driving down the street, when a cop pulls you over and tells you that you are being taken in on suspicions that you murdered someone. Most of us would say “But I would never murder anyone!”

Well, that’s what Ryan Ferguson did, and yet he is sitting in a maximum-security prison on a 40-year sentence for a crime that he physically and circumstantially could not have committed.

On Halloween night of 2001 in Columbia, Mo., the Columbia Daily Tribune’s sports editor was found dead by two janitors in the parking lot at 2:26 a.m. The janitors reported seeing two white males at the crime scene. There were also fingerprints on the victim’s car, strands of the attacker’s hair at the scene, and bloody footprints that led back to a local college campus.

That same night, Kelly Ferguson brought her 17-year-old brother, Ryan, and his friend Chuck Erickson to a local bar, By George. The bar, located only minutes from the Tribune’s office, closed at 1:30 a.m. Ferguson and Erickson got in the car and drove home together.

Two years later, Erickson and Ferguson ran into each other at a New Year’s Party and Erickson said he had been having dreams that he might have possibly been involved in the murder that Halloween night. It wasn’t long before the police heard Erickson’s ideas and brought him in for interrogation. It was there that he named his accomplice: Ryan Ferguson.

Erickson took a plea deal and 25 years behind bars in exchange for a testimony against Ferguson. It was Erickson’s “confession” and janitor Jerry Trump’s testimony that got Ferguson convicted of second-degree murder and robbery.

Ferguson’s family, especially his father, Bill, was understandably aggrieved by the verdict. Bill took to the streets to find evidence that proved his son’s innocence. He found that Ryan was blameless.

First, none of the physical evidence at the scene belongs to Ferguson or even Erickson, and there was plenty of physical evidence. The footprints were not their sizes, and led to a college campus that they did not live on.

Second, Erickson claimed that they committed the murder to get more money to buy drinks from the bar. However, the bar had been closed for an hour when the janitors found the body.

Third, the female janitor, who made the 911 call and saw the men at the scene, was never asked to identify Ferguson at the initial trial. When Bill asked, she said that it was definitely neither Ferguson nor Erickson.
And now for the nail in the coffin: The two people whose testimonies put Ferguson behind bars, admitted to perjury.

Trump tearfully testified that the prosecution had pressured him into identifying Ferguson, and that he knows the killer was not Ferguson.

Erickson too came forward and said that Ferguson was not involved. In fact, he said he did not believe either of them were involved. He confessed that he fabricated the confession, and has no idea what happened that night.

But when you look back at the initial interrogation tapes, it’s obvious that his confession was fabricated, not by Erickson, but by police. A particularly disturbing conversation revolves around what was used to strangle Kent Heitholt.

Erickson says first that it might have been a shirt, or “maybe a bungee cord or, I don’t — something from his car?” The officer interrogating him then says, “Well we have for a fact that his belt was ripped off of his pants, and he was strangled with his belt.”

I’m sorry, I’m not going to pretend I’m a scholar in criminal justicce, but I’m pretty sure you can’t tell a suspect what happened if they do not know, and then make that a confession.

Erickson was a confused man. In the interrogation he continues to say that he could be fabricating the whole story, he legitimately does not know what happened that night.

But with all the evidence, the courts still will not hear Ferguson’s appeal. He has spent nine years in jail, for a crime that it is pretty close to impossible for him to have committed.

It should scare everyone; I know it scares me that anyone could find himself or herself in jail for something they did not do. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to be powerless, as the justice system won’t see that you didn’t do anything.

It’s a disturbing story to hear, and scarier to think that it could literally happen to anyone. We need to speak up, and help Ryan Ferguson, because I know I would want the help if I were in his situation.
You can sign an online petition to help him get a new trial, through the Free Ryan Ferguson Facebook page or through

Ferguson said it best on the stand when prosecution was questioning him. He asked the prosecution if they would believe they’d be arrested for a crime they didn’t commit. Prosecution said simply that they did not commit one, to which Ferguson said: Neither did I.

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--- Senior | Executive Editor --- Journalism/Film, TV & New Media

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