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After serving nearly 10 years behind bars for murder, Ryan Ferguson is trying to find his way in life as a free man.
“I've started to get stressed out about a few things which is kind of strange to me,’’ Ferguson told Dateline NBC's Keith Morrison. “It's a whole different life. I know what to do in prison. I know where to be and when to be there and how to do things. Out here it’s a completely different environment. You know, I've got to find my way essentially.”
Ferguson, 29, was released from prison on Tuesday after prosecutors in Missouri announced they would not retry him for the beating and strangling of newspaper editor Kent Heitholt on Halloween night in 2001. Ferguson was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
On Nov. 5, the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District vacated Ferguson’s murder conviction. Judge Cynthia Martin ruled that Ferguson did not receive a fair trial and that “his verdict is not worthy of confidence.”
Newly free Ferguson took a walk around his hometown of Columbia, Mo., with Morrison, who has followed Ferguson’s story, on Thursday. Dateline NBC's hour-long special on the case will air Friday at 8 p.m. ET.
The trip around Columbia was “very strange” and “surreal,’’ Ferguson said.
Since his release, Ferguson has worked to help free Chuck Erickson, whose original testimony helped send Ferguson to prison. Ferguson, who was 17 at the time of the crime and admitted to drinking illegally at a nearby college bar, was convicted on the strength of testimony from Erickson and night custodian Jerry Trump. Erickson and Trump admitted in 2012 to a lower court judge that they lied on the stand and recanted their accounts.
In 2005, Erickson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree robbery and testified he had a "dream-like" memory of the crime.
"What needs to be understood about Erickson is he is not a killer, and he is not guilty of this crime,’’ Ferguson said. “He doesn't belong to be serving any time for a murder he didn't commit.”