Murder conviction overturned for Columbia man

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Three judges with the Missouri Appeals Court overturned the conviction of Ryan Ferguson, the Columbia man charged with the 2001 murder of a newspaper sports editor.

"Thank you everyone for your continued support," Ferguson said in a statement.

He added that he looks forward to sitting at the dinner table this Thanksgiving.

Shortly after 8 a.m. Tuesday, the state's court of appeals announced that during Ferguson's trial prosecutors withheld key evidence from the defense. In turn, the court added Ferguson did not receive a fair trial.

Ferguson's case has gained national attention.

It started on Halloween night 2001, when Kent Heitholt the sports editor of a Columbia newspaper was found strangled to death in the parking lot of his office.

That night, Ferguson and his childhood friend Chuck Erickson had been at a bar nearby.

Ferguson was never considered a suspect until early 2004 when Erickson said that he and Ferguson committed the murder.

During Ferguson's trial, his friend said that he dreamlike memories of the two of them committing the murder although there was no physical evidence linking them to the murder.

In addition, there was a janitor who said that one of the men he saw that night in the parking lot was Ferguson.

Following the trial, Ferguson was sentenced to 40 years in prison. So far he's served nine.

However, since then, both men have recanted their stories.

An appeals court found prosecutors withheld evidence that would have raised questions about the janitor's testimony years ago-- and decided to throw the conviction out.

Prosecutors have 15 days to decide whether or not to retry the case.

Ferguson's attorney, Kathleen Zellner, has asked that he be released on bond while that decision is made. If there's no re-trial he'd remain a free man.

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