Ryan Ferguson was serving a 40 year sentence for the 2001 murder of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt. The only evidence placing him at the scene of the crime was testimony from one of Ferguson’s classmates who claimed they’d murdered Heitholt together, and of a janitor who claimed to have seen Ryan in the parking lot after the murder. No DNA or fingerprints put him at the scene.
In 2012, Ryan was granted a new trial because the classmate said that he lied about Ryan’s involvement. The janitor also recanted, saying that the police pressured him into picking Ryan in a lineup.But at the time, he judge didn’t believe the most recent account and found that there wasn’t enough reliable new evidence to overturn his conviction.
Ryan told reporters, “I didn’t know this morning I would be standing here tonight. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know the next step at all. It’s very scary, and it’s very daunting. I’m very glad to be here.”
Since 1989, more than 1,100 people have been falsely convicted, according to NBC news.