After spending almost all of his 20s in prison for a murder he didn't commit, Ryan Ferguson is finally free.
"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," Ferguson, 29, told a roomful of reporters, family and supporters at the Tiger Hotel in Columbia, Missouri.
"I'm ready for anything," he said.
Ferguson said he didn't know he was going to be released from prison on Tuesday evening. He thought his lawyers and parents were coming for a visit until he saw his lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, through the prison window. She was holding up a court booklet with the words "It Is OVER" written on the cover.
"It was a wild day for sure, a lot going on, a lot of emotions... I'm glad that the difficult part is over," Ferguson said.
In 2004, 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.
A Missouri state appeals court panel last week overturned Ferguson's murder conviction, ruling that the prosecution withheld evidence from Ferguson's defense attorneys that could have perhaps exculpated him when he was on trial for the murder of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.
When Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced today that he would not retry or seek further legal action against Ferguson, the 29-year-old was allowed to leave prison once a Boone County judge signed off on the order. Ferguson, who has maintained his innocence while serving a 40-year sentence for the 2001 slaying of the newspaper editor, was released from custody around 6 p.m. Tuesday.