Ryan Ferguson,’s case has been the subject of national attention ever since he was convicted of murder in 2005. Today, Dateline, Good Morning America and Nightline have all profiled the case of the 19 year old who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing a Columbia man in a parking lot on Halloween night, 2001. The media’s attention was first sparked when the supervisor of a key state witness, a janitor who claimed to see Ferguson near the crime scene, said the janitor told her immediately after the crime was discovered that he did not see who was involved.
Ferguson’s co-defendant, who had been drinking at a bar with Ferguson near where the victim was killed, came forward years after the murder and confessed to police that he and Ferguson were guilty. Though he was sentenced along with Ferguson, he later recanted. He has a history of mental illness and drug abuse, and later said he came forward because he’d had a dream that he and Ferguson committed the murder. His videotaped interview with police revealed discrepancies between his story and the facts, which was a central focus of subsequent media investigations into the case.
Despite the recantations and the dearth of physical evidence tying Ferguson to the crime scene, appellate courts denied him relief until today.
On Tuesday, November 6, 2013 the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District vacated Ferguson’s conviction because prosecutors in the case withheld exculpatory evidence that would likely have impacted the jury’s verdict. The evidence that was withheld is an interview with the janitor’s wife.
The janitor, Jerry Trump, told jurors at Ferguson’s trial that while he was in prison in 2004, his wife sent him a newspaper that contained an article about Ferguson and his co-defendant. Trump testified that when he saw the pictures of the defendants he recalled seeing them in the parking lot on the night of the murder. But in an interview with a prosecutor, Trump’s wife said she did not recall sending her husband the newspaper. The state never disclosed this interview to Ferguson’s attorneys.
Ferguson’s attorneys have filed a motion to have him released from prison. The state has seven days to decide if they will object to that motion. Prosecutors have not yet stated if they will appeal today’s ruling.