After nearly 10 years in prison for a murder conviction that was thrown out last week, 29-year-old Ryan Ferguson walked out of a Missouri prison last night and, after a news conference, sat down to a dinner of steak and beer with his family.
Ferguson was released Tuesday when the Missouri attorney general dropped the case against him after determining that the prosecutor withheld evidence in his case.
Ferguson was convicted for the 2001 killing of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt after Ferguson’s classmate, Chuck Erickson, testified that he had dreams that made him believe he and Ferguson committed the crime during a robbery gone wrong.
Ferguson long maintained his innocence. Erickson later recanted his testimony.
Ferguson and his father, Bill Ferguson, spoke to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos today.
George: How did the steak taste?
Ryan: Oh, it tasted amazing, a steak after that long. And I had an amazing person cooking it for me at an amazing steakhouse, G&D Steakhouse in Columbia. The best steakhouse there is. It was amazing.
George: Bill, I was so touched that Ryan said it was worse for you than it was for him.
Bill: That’s hard to believe. I would not have wanted to trade places with him.
George: Ryan, you said it was your father’s advice that got you through this?
Ryan: Absolutely. There’s so much that he’s kind of guided me through in the past decade, my whole life really, but the past decade especially. All the advice. He always made himself available anytime I needed him. He even worked out the phone so I could call all day, every day if I needed to. He’s definitely helped get me through, especially those first few years. You need that support. You need an amazing family. Fortunately, I definitely have that.
George: Ryan, I think most of us can’t even imagine spending time in prison for a murder you know in your heart you didn’t commit.
Ryan: Without having an opportunity to reflect on it, I still don’t know how it actually feels because I’ve just been trying to survive and you try to make it from day to day and that’s what prison is all about. You just do anything that you can to make yourself bigger, strong and faster to survive and so that’s what I did for a decade. And fortunately I can relax now and hopefully reflect on that and try to deal with that.
George: Ryan, what are you going to do next?
Ryan: I’m not certain. I’m going to work hard, I know that. Do a lot of things with my father. We’ve got a lot to write, work on together. I want to spend time with my family. You know, I think I’ve worked really hard in the fact I gave both mentally and physically to put myself in a position to take advantage of any positions that present themselves. I’m going to just remain optimistic and see what happens and if nothing comes down the road I’m going to create my own opportunities. I feel really good about the future.
George: Bill, is this the same Ryan you know who went into prison 10 years ago?
Bill: Well, basically, but bigger, smarter, stronger now for sure and just has a very strong outlook. … That’s the thing I’ve seen the most. It would be difficult to get him to write a letter before and now he’s writing a book so he’s made a quantitative leap so we’re just so impressed.
George: Ryan, do you seek any kind of remedy in the courts or just want to put it all behind you?
Ryan: I’m going to let the attorneys handle that. I’ve had my whole twenties taken from me. You know, right now I’m focused on spending time with my family. I haven’t really looked into those issues. Really it’s just about getting on with life and getting back to some normalcy. That’s my main focus right now.
George: Ryan, what’s next on your bucket list?
Ryan: I don’t know. I need to take care of the little things in life — get an ID, get some clothes. I’m literally starting life with nothing other than obviously an amazing family, which is everything. But I have no material possessions. I have no clothes other than the ones that I’m wearing, which are actually my father’s. I just need to do the little things in life that people take for granted and get back on track and keep moving forward.