Ryan Ferguson Freed After Spending Almost a Decade in Prison for Murder


In 2005, Ferguson was convicted of killing Heitholt in the parking lot of the Tribune on Halloween night 2001. None of the DNA collected at the scene -- the footprints and fingerprints -- matched Ryan Ferguson's, but the jury decided that testimony from Charles Erickson, one of Ferguson's classmates who claimed they'd murdered Heitholt together, and Jerry Trump, a janitor who identified Ferguson as one of the two men he saw in the parking lot immediately after the murder, was enough to convict him. Erickson was also convicted and sentenced to 25 years.

Four years after that 2005 conviction, Erickson met with Ferguson's attorneys to read a statement, which Ferguson's attorney, Kathleen Zellner, videotaped, admitting he had not been truthful in his testimony against Ferguson.

In April 2012, Ferguson was granted a new court hearing, where 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 had pressured him to implicate Ferguson and Erickson from looking at a photo.

But at the time, 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.

Ferguson appealed Green's ruling, and this September, Ferguson's lawyers made arguments in the Western District appeals court, rebutting his conviction. That court overturned Ferguson's murder conviction last week.

Even today, Ferguson had no harsh words for Erickson, the man who was the driving force for his conviction, saying he, too, was an "innocent man in prison."

"I know he was used and manipulated, and I kind of feel sorry for the guy," Ferguson said. "He is not a killer, he does not belong in prison."

As for Kent Heitholt's family members, who are left to grapple with the sports editor's unsolved murder, Ferguson said, "I can't imagine how they're feeling, but the one thing is for them to look at all the facts and ask for justice."

"They've been lied to by people they trust and to see them misled by people that they believe are trying to help them. I can't imagine anything worse than that," Ferguson said. "I hope that everyone is able to ask that justice is done... and we can find who actually commited this crime."

ABC News' Dan Abrams contributed to this report

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