Wrongly Accused? Missouri Man Has Spent Almost a Decade in Prison for Murder, Claims Innocence


But detectives became aggressive during their interrogation and Erickson eventually claimed he and Ferguson had run out of drinking money and decided to rob someone.

At the seven-week-long trial in 2005, Erickson somehow knew all the details that had eluded him during the interrogation and was the star witness against Ryan Ferguson.

"He was down here and he had a belt, and he had his foot on his back on the victim's back and he was pulling up on the belt," Erickson testified in court.

His detailed account was supported by the testimony of a janitor named Jerry Trump, who identified Ferguson as one of the two men he saw in the parking lot immediately after the murder.

Erickson and Trump's testimony held up the case against Ferguson. None of the DNA collected at the scene -- the footprints and fingerprints -- matched Ryan Ferguson's, but the testimony was enough for the jury to convict him. Erickson was also convicted and sentenced to 25 years.

"It reminded me of playing freshman football and getting the breath knocked out of me," Bill Ferguson said. "It was surreal, I just couldn't believe it."

Four years after that 2005 conviction, Ferguson seemingly got a break. Two weeks after Kathleen Zellner, an attorney who has won many wrongful conviction cases, agreed to take on Ferguson's case pro-bono, Ferguson received a letter in prison from Erickson, asking for Ferguson's attorneys to meet with him.

With Zellner's camera rolling, Erickson read a statement admitting he had not been truthful in his testimony against Ferguson.

"Things happened much differently than I had previously stated, I could not accept in my conscience mind that I was the sole perpetrator," Erickson said on Zellner's tape. "I regret now that I put an innocent man through that. He didn't deserve it."

Ferguson got a new court hearing in April 2012, and Erickson testified that he had lied about Ferguson's involvement in the murder during his initial trial. Then Trump, the janitor, took the stand and admitted that he too had lied at the trial. A convicted sex offender, Trump now claimed that police pressured him to implicate Ferguson and Erickson from looking at a photo.

"He said, 'It would be very helpful if you can help us with this ... by identifying them.'" Trump testified in 2012. "I felt very intimidated, because the only thing I wanted to do, at that point, was to do the right thing. I'd been in enough trouble."

Ryan Ferguson thought his nightmare was over, but Judge Daniel Green didn't believe Erickson's most recent account and found that there wasn't enough reliable new evidence to overturn his conviction.

Ryan Ferguson appealed Green's ruling. Last month, his lawyers made arguments in a Kansas City appeals court, rebutting his conviction. Now judges are weighing whether Ferguson should be granted a new trial.

Almost 10 years after his initial conviction, Ferguson is cautiously allowing himself to imagine a life outside prison bars, and hopes to be released before Thanksgiving.

"I'm going be ready for whatever life throws at me because I've been preparing for so long," Ferguson. "So you know I just … maintain positivity and hope that one day I'll wake up and I'll get a good phone call."

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