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Ryan Ferguson's Murder Conviction Vacated

Ryan Ferguson may be a free man sooner than expected. An appeals court has overturned Ferguson's conviction in the murder of a Missouri sports writer, CBS News reports.

Ferguson, 29, was convicted in 2005 of robbing and killing Kent Heitholt, largely because of the testimony of Ferguson's friend Charles Erickson. Ferguson has always maintained his innocence.

Now, eight years later, Ferguson's murder conviction is being vacated. But why?

Case Questioned

Ferguson was 19 at the time of Heitholt's killing in 2001. It wasn't until early 2004 when his childhood friend Erickson came forward to confess that he and Ferguson were responsible.

Since his conviction, however, the case has been called into question.

Ferguson's attorney insists there is no physical evidence connecting Ferguson to the crime, Columbia's KMIZ-TV reports. Ferguson's legal team filed a writ of habeas corpus, which stated that he was being locked up based on insufficient evidence.

The only evidence actually linking Ferguson to the murder were testimonies from Erickson and a janitor, who has since recanted. According to KMIZ-TV, the janitor claims he was pressured to implicate Ferguson.

15 Days Until Freedom?

But the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals cited another reason that Ferguson did not receive a fair trial: Prosecutors withheld evidence from Ferguson's defense team that could have helped his case, KMIZ-TV reports.

The evidence in question was an interview with the janitor's wife. The undisclosed evidence "would have permitted Ferguson to discover other evidence that could have impacted" either the janitor's credibility, or the admissibility of his testimony, the court wrote in its opinion.

The court granted Ferguson's request for habeas relief and vacated Ferguson's conviction Tuesday.

According to the ruling, prosecutors have 15 days to decide whether to retry Ferguson. If no decision has been made by then, Ferguson will be freed.

What happens to his accuser Erickson, though? Much like Ferguson, the evidence does not match Erickson either, according to CBS News. It's possible that upon a motion, a court will eventually reassess Erickson's conviction as well.

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