This week, a Missouri man was able to walk free for the first time in a decade after an appeals court overturned his conviction. Ryan Ferguson had insisted from the start that he was not guilty of murdering Columbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt on Halloween night in 2001. Reading about the circumstances that placed him in jail in the first place is disturbing and reinforces the need for those in our judicial system to be held to the highest level of credibility.
Ferguson found himself standing in a courtroom and hearing a guilty sentence after a friend of his had “dream-like” memories of committing the crime with him. Ferguson also was placed at the scene by a janitor, who later admitted he lied under oath. What is startling is that more concrete evidence found at the scene, such as hair, fingerprints and bloody footprints showed no connection to Ferguson. Still, he was ordered to spend forty years behind bars.
The appeals court determined that prosecutors had withheld key pieces of evidence during the 2005 trial, violating federal law. Once this decision was made, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster had the choice to charge Ferguson again or to make him a free man. He chose to release Ferguson, noting that new charges would not be filed “at this time.”
Is Ryan Ferguson innocent of murder? Perhaps. He has not officially been declared an innocent party in this crime, but his family and friends stand by him. Whatever the truth may be, it seems that the right decision has been made if we are to stand true to the notion of innocent until proven guilty. Especially with all of the forensic capabilities we have today, we need to know with as much certainly as possible that we are not punishing the innocent.
What are your thoughts on this story?
Is it surprising to you that in 2005 a man can be found guilty of murder based on dreams and one witness who supposedly saw him at the scene?
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