A Note of Gratitude Many thanks are in order, for without the love, encouragement, support, and help I've received along the way, this book, my very first attempt at writing one, would almost certainly not exist. I would like to first thank the two incredible individuals who played the central role of taking my crazy idea of a book from words handwritten on notebook paper in prison to something that felt real, professional, and, most important, presentable. If Myka Cain and James Dunn, a.k.a. Young Dizzle, hadn't believed in my drive and vision, this exercise in creativity would likely have been nothing more than a short-lived moment in time. Worse, I'd probably still be staring at notebooks full of chicken scratch and useful information with no clue of how to transfer it onto one of those things I hadn't seen in a decade . . . a computer! You two helped bring this to life with a lot of hard work, while not once asking for or expecting anything of me. Even more than for getting this book off the ground, I would like to thank both of you for showing me what true friendship is all about. As far as I am concerned, we are, and always will be, a team. I can't wait for the day you get out of there, James, so we can work, and work out, together once again. As you know, I'd acknowledge more of your editorial skills here, but I don't want the pettiness of prison to hamper your current existence. Myka, my beautiful love, what can I even begin to say about you? So many times you have saved me on this book. The hours you've put in . . . you are an incredible woman! I don't know how you do it, but this should be your primary job. Editing, communications, design, technical skills, social media expert, you've got it all. And that's not even talking about your radiant personality and charming smile! I am one lucky man to have you in my life! I'd also like to thank the individuals who helped on other aspects of this book, primarily reading it over for ways to improve it, as well as those who fought for my freedom and took the time to review the evidence, thus not only believing in my innocence but knowing of it. The reason for thanking both at once is because, more often than not, these people were one and the same. Richard Drew, your name pops up first in my mind, since you have been and continue to be a huge part of my life. I'm very lucky to have a friend who looks out for me as you have. Much love, man! Ben Hamrah, Ashley Hennerich, Affton Hennerich, Mike Rognlien, Andrew Jenks, Anthony Galloway, Dylan Ratigan, Erin Moriarti, Gale Zimmerman, Jason Flom, and Chip Rosenbloom also come to mind here. I'm grateful for so many aspects of what you've done for me and this book. Whether you know it or not, you've all contributed a great deal to my success in not only various aspects of this book but also, and more important, my success in finding the freedom that had been unjustly taken from me. Speaking of the fight for freedom, I must say a huge "thank-you" to the brilliant Doug Johnson and my "lifetime attorney," friend, adviser, and mentor, Kathleen Zellner. If not for their drive, passion, belief, and superior skill in the field of law, my family, my supporters, and I would likely still be fighting for justice. Supporters! Yes, I have a special place in my heart for all of the beautiful people out there who have supported my family and me. It is you who showed me that even though there is much evil in the world, particularly from those in positions of authority, there is also an overwhelming abundance of kindness, generosity, and love. Just when I was about to give up on humanity, it is you who bonded together, bringing me the gift of peace and happiness that comes with knowing you're part of something much larger: a worldwide family! Which brings me to the last and ultimately most important people in this book, in the fight I've endured, and in my life in general: family. Bill Ferguson, Leslie Ferguson, Kelly Ferguson, Don and Kappy Frazier, Alberta Ferguson, Bob and Steve Frazier, the balance of the Fraziers, and the Norrises, as well as the rest of my extended family. Thank you so much to all of you for showing me what family is all about. I could not have made it through this past decade without you. This book wouldn't be a reality or have even been a dream of mine if you hadn't chosen to sacrifice, suffer, and endure the pain of the reality that held me hostage. You had the option not to care and I will never forget, or take that for granted. You are everything and I love you so much! Especially Bill, Leslie, and Kelly Ferguson. No one in this world could have anticipated the brilliance of one family. Both in their fight and their love. I've said it a million times, but what's once more? I would be nothing without you. My life begins and ends with you three. Always. I love you. Thank you. --Ryan W. Ferguson Preface God asks no man whether he will accept life. That is not the choice. You must take it. The only choice is how. --HENRY WARD BEECHER My Life Behind Bars Hello, my name is Ryan Ferguson. Thank you for picking up my book. This is the story of a young man who came of age within the confines of a maximum-security prison. What makes this story unique is that this man was locked up for a crime he did not commit. In total, he lost nearly 10 years of his life. Friends turned their backs on him. The world called him a murderer and a liar. The experience could have broken him. Yet he chose to fight back and persevere. That man is me, and my story began on March 10, 2004. That was the date I was arrested for murder. Over the last decade I have experienced more setbacks and defeats than most people experience in a whole lifetime. I have seen the inner workings of the U.S. justice system at its very worst and how the truth comes second to securing a conviction. I never gave up, though. I fought endlessly to prove my innocence, and now I continue to fight for others. Once convicted, I was faced with two options: fight or flight. I was a terrified 19-year-old kid who had never been in trouble with the law and who suddenly found himself locked up in county jail and later in a maximum-security prison. It didn't seem possible. After the initial panic attacks subsided and I faced the grim reality of a possible life sentence staring down at me, the only thing I knew how to do was fight. Fight for my future; fight for my life; fight for my mind, my body; and, most important, my innocence. I knew I had to find a way. More than that, I had to find my way. My way to fight through the stresses, the pain, and the fear in order to make myself tougher. Throughout this torturous journey I have endured many trials and tribulations that probably should have destroyed my strength, my hope, and even my will to carry on. That is not me, though. Backed by an incredible family and an overwhelming set of documented facts, I refused to allow someone to get away with taking my life for something they knew I did not do. As time went on, media attention rose and my case was featured on several national television news programs. Maybe you've seen these or know my story from another source. If not, I'll start with the basic facts. Here's where it all began: Halloween night 2001. Around 2:10 a.m. on November 1, 2001, Kent Heitholt, sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune , logged off his computer and left his office in Columbia, Missouri. Within minutes he was savagely attacked and murdered next to his car in the newspaper's parking lot. A tragic death, Kent's murder shocked the local community. Sitting in the empty lot that night was Kent Heitholt's colleague Michael Boyd. Boyd claimed the two spoke briefly and then he drove away at around 2:20 a.m. Heitholt, a large man standing six feet three and weighing 315 pounds, was struck from behind on his head multiple times and strangled with his own belt. Nothing of value was stolen from the victim, aside from possibly an inexpensive watch and his car keys. The first people on the scene were two janitors, Shawna Ornt and Jerry Trump. Ornt had gone out for a break and observed two figures beside Heitholt's car. As suspicion mounted within her, she quickly retraced her steps and got her coworker Trump. The two peered out into the parking lot but couldn't see anything. Finally, Trump called out and two men stepped out from behind the car. The man at the rear of the car walked toward Ornt and spoke to her, saying, "Somebody's hurt, get help," before calmly rejoining the other man and walking away. Ornt got a good look at the man, including his face, before he left the scene. They then called 911 at 2:26 a.m. Later that night, Shawna Ornt helped police create a composite drawing of the man who had spoken to her. Police considered her the "sole witness." Her colleague Jerry Trump was also questioned. Trump told the police, and later others, that he couldn't identify or give a detailed description of the individuals. Meanwhile, Boyd, the last known person to see Kent Heitholt alive, was only briefly questioned by the police and never investigated as a potential suspect. Investigators discovered a trail of hair, blood, and fingerprints at the crime scene. The killer would likely have been covered in blood. There were also two sets of shoe prints leading away from the scene. A police K-9 unit tracked the scent from those shoe prints to a University of Missouri dorm. For the authorities there seemed to be a trove of evidence to follow, yet the murder of Kent Heitholt remained unsolved. On the second anniversary of Heitholt's murder, the Tribune printed an article in hopes of gaining information about the unsolved murder. The article displayed the composite sketch that Shawna Ornt assisted investigators with and urged the community members to speak up if they had information about the murder. For those in the Columbia Police Department who appeared so eager to crack the case that the facts became secondary, a lead arrived in the form of a troubled young man who read the newspaper article. Charles Erickson, a high school friend of mine, saw the composite sketch and thought it vaguely resembled him. He then appeared to have a dream that he was involved in the murder. On account of these newfound "images," Erickson began airing his fears and his dreams to his friends, including myself. Needless to say, I clearly remembered that Halloween night. Erickson and I had been at a local bar called By George. We left at closing time; I then drove him home and drove home myself. Erickson's dreams didn't make any sense. But his story was taken seriously by at least one friend, John Alder, who reported Erickson's dreams to the police. Following Alder's tip, for which there was a $10,000 reward, Erickson was picked up for questioning in March 2004. What followed was one of the most shocking and disturbing police interrogations ever caught on camera. Erickson had no actual independent knowledge of the crime. He didn't know what the murder weapon was, how many times Kent Heitholt had been struck, or even where the murder had taken place. And those images from his dreams . . . not one of them fit the actual crime scene. Nevertheless, the police, desperate to clear up a high-profile cold case, proceeded to coerce and spoon-feed Erickson key unique details about the crime. This, unfortunately, is where I came in. That morning, right outside of Kansas City, Missouri, was like any other. I was attending a history class at Maple Woods Community College and the only thing on my mind was the next day's exam. I had no worries. I had a decent job, good friends, an amazing family, and what I considered a bright future. All was going well until I left class and headed home. On the way there, two huge guys in an SUV were riding my bumper. This, of course, happens from time to time so I didn't think anything of it. Just a couple of douches with no respect. Nothing new. Once the lane I was in went from one to two, they stared me down as they passed. I soon turned off into my apartment parking lot, and no sooner had I put the car in park than that very same SUV flew up behind me, essentially blocking me in. My life would never be the same. What followed was something I don't think I'll ever understand. These people I'd never seen before proceeded to treat me like the dirt on their shoes, rushing at me screaming "FBI," telling me not to move. From the arrest, to locking me in a car handcuffed with no explanation, to instantly and randomly stripping every right I had, things got intense. I didn't know what to make of it. I even thought for a time I was being arrested for a recent bomb threat at our school. I had no idea what was going on. I was totally and completely lost. Within an hour I found myself in an interrogation room much like the ones you'd see in a bad movie. I told the police time and time again, over multiple hours of redundant questioning, that yes, I had been at the By George bar with Erickson on Halloween night 2001. I stated the obvious, that I had left around 1:30 a.m., when the bar closed. I told them repeatedly how I'd driven Erickson home before heading home myself. These were the simple facts and I never wavered from them. In a neighboring room, however, while I sat there doing what I could to help, those same police were apparently doing what they could to wring a confession, right, wrong, or indifferent, from Erickson. Even though he had no personal knowledge of Heitholt's murder, and had stated multiple times that he'd blacked out and didn't know what happened after he left the bar, they didn't seem to care. After many grueling hours of blatant threats and damning lies from the detectives, Erickson folded under the pressure. Assuming the police were being straight up with him about this false evidence, he figured he must have been present at the crime scene and simply told detectives what he thought they wanted to hear. Over the following months, as Prosecutor Kevin Crane charged the two of us with murder, Erickson's statements slowly evolved, changing a number of times. Aided by "discovery," which contained fabricated police reports bolstering Erickson's supposed guilt and an exhaustive source of details about this crime, Erickson eventually came to believe his dreams were true; he and I had murdered Heitholt in a robbery gone wrong. Due to these false beliefs, and the fear that he must have committed the crime, Erickson panicked and agreed to a plea deal that would frame me for the murder of Heitholt in exchange for a lesser sentence for himself. From the time of my arrest in March 2004 until my trial in October 2005, I found myself, a person convicted of no crime, trapped inside the county jail. Apparently those who wield the power within our criminal justice system find the Eighth Amendment of our Constitution to be nothing more than a joke. Case in point, the "Honorable" Judge Ellen Roper chose to ignore the whole "excessive bail shall not be required" part of the Constitution and gave me one for $20 million. The largest of its kind in history. We sought accountability for what appeared to be an outright senseless and slightly biased decision but found instead what would be the first of many indications that those within the justice system simply will not hold their colleagues responsible for their actions. Many wondered why I was even on trial in the first place, considering that Erickson's story was riddled with inconsistencies and flat-out impossibilities. None of the DNA evidence at the scene matched either Charles or me; there was absolutely no motive; I had no criminal background; and the ultimate reality was that there was, and would remain, zero evidence connecting me to this case. But these same people had underestimated the indifference of the Columbia Police Department and an ambitious prosecutor, Kevin Crane. After multiple coaching sessions in Crane's office, the Charles Erickson who appeared before the jury was a new man. Confident and assured in his testimony, Erickson took the stand and pointed me out as responsible for the murder of Kent Heitholt. In so doing, he and Crane reenacted the supposed particulars of the murder, details Erickson had no knowledge of just a year earlier. It was still far from an open-and-shut case. My attorneys fought back, barely. Partially because they didn't properly prepare for trial, a sad reality that plays out all too often once attorneys get your money, and partially because they weren't given all of the evidence to fight this case to begin with. This last issue of the defense not getting all of the information is actually illegal, but because our Supreme Court won't allow the law to hold police and prosecutors accountable for hiding evidence, it tends to happen in a vast majority of innocence cases. It's similar to making laws against drinking and driving where, instead of prosecuting those who are caught breaking this law with a felony and possible prison time, the courts would merely say, "Well, I'm sure you didn't mean to get drunk and run over those kids. How can you be responsible for them being on the road in the first place?" There is NO accountability. Just as drinking and driving would never stop if we didn't prosecute the offenders, police and prosecutors will continue to hide evidence and destroy countless lives if they know they won't even get so much as a slap on the wrist. Nonetheless, Prosecutor Kevin Crane had a new "star witness" to place Erickson and me at the scene: janitor Jerry Trump. Though Trump had previously admitted he couldn't identify anyone at the scene, he now pointed me out in front of the jury as the man he had seen the night of the murder. Even more interesting was prosecutor Crane's choice not to ask Shawna Ornt, the police's "sole witness," if she could identify me as being there. Why ask Trump, who stated multiple times that he couldn't see the people in the parking lot, and not the sole witness, Ornt? Shawna Ornt later testified in a 2008 evidentiary hearing that she had met with Prosecutor Crane about three times prior to my trial. In that testimony, she said that she had told Crane numerous times that the men she saw that night were neither Erickson nor myself. Apparently, this information was not good enough for my attorneys or the jury to be made aware of. After hearing just five days of evidence, which grimly coincided with my 21st birthday, the jury took the case into deliberation. Hours later they delivered their verdict. They found me guilty of first-degree robbery and second-degree murder. My sentence . . . 40 years behind bars. Happy 21st. Instead of leaving 18 months of hard time in the county jail to the beauty of freedom, I'd instead be going to a place I never thought I'd see the inside of: state prison. I was shocked, betrayed, scared, lost . . . You name it and I was feeling it. It was a flood of the emotions you attempt to avoid in life. I could do nothing. I was powerless. I felt like the whole world was against me and the only people who could change that were the very ones who chose to defy the facts by choosing to put me in prison. I was left with so many questions. How could a jury convict me with no evidence? How long would it take to right this obvious wrong? How could those with the authority to serve and protect ignore the facts, and fight for what the documented evidence proved was so blatantly wrong? And the most pressing question, which may never be answered: How could they live with themselves? This, thankfully, was not the end of my journey. Incensed by the jury's verdict and knowing I was innocent, my family made it their mission to uncover as much evidence as possible to prove my innocence. Devoting his life to the case, my father, Bill, eventually uncovered a shocking series of facts that would help prove that I should never have even been arrested, let alone tried or convicted. Following my conviction in 2005, I was back in court several times over the years in a series of hopeless appeals. Each time the local judges ignored the facts of my case and, unsurprisingly, ruled against me. Unwilling to challenge the authority and judgments of their colleagues, none of these "ministers of justice" would be bold enough to stand in opposition to their peers. Sadly, as statistics show, this is typical for small-time judges. So, I sat in prison for years while these local hacks callously carried on with their country-club lives. This continued throughout many years of appeals, even though the only two witnesses against me would eventually take the stand, admitting to perjury. Remember, there was never any physical evidence linking me to Heitholt's murder and the "sole witness" to the crime scene had said I was not the person she saw in the parking lot. Could this really be how our justice system works? Thankfully, back in October 2005, a few months before my trial, the media started to take an interest in my case. Over the years, three major news magazine shows ended up highlighting my family's extraordinary efforts, and their attention would prove invaluable in securing my eventual release. CBS's 48 Hours and NBC's Dateline each ended up airing four episodes on the absurdity of this case. Later, ABC's Nightline also aired two detailed segments. I have since been interviewed by Today , Good Morning America , The Early Show , and Katie , Katie Couric's show. Beyond that were countless newspaper articles and posts written about my struggles and my family's. The world of fighting for yourself in the media is a story unto itself. It is a strange and difficult one for sure but ultimately gratifying once all the facts are exposed. All the media attention eventually attracted the interest of prominent defense attorney Kathleen Zellner. An extremely well-respected lawyer who focuses on appealing wrongful convictions, Kathleen and her brilliance and incredible work ethic were essential for the fight to come. In the fall of 2009, Zellner and her law partner, the unassumingly tenacious Doug Johnson, met with me and my family, examined the evidence, and realized there had been an obvious miscarriage of justice. They took my case pro bono, no expenses, and worked tirelessly to prove my innocence. Shortly after they came on board, an incredible break occurred in the case. Out of the blue I received some unexpected good news. In early November 2009, Charles Erickson had decided to come clean. In a handwritten statement, Erickson admitted he had lied under oath at trial! Finally! After years of attempting to prove what was so obvious to a bunch of courts whose members wouldn't even listen to the evidence, the truth would reveal itself. I was still a bit frightened since I knew how these courts operated, but it felt like this hellish journey would soon come to its long-awaited conclusion. How could they not give me my life back when this man admitted to lying and all the evidence backed it up? For the first time in years I began to dream again. Later, things began to look even more promising. My defense team ended up speaking with the other witness, Jerry Trump, who confessed that he, too, had lied during his trial testimony under pressure from Prosecutor Kevin Crane. Apparently Crane had told Trump it would be "helpful to him" if Trump could place me at the scene of the crime, which clearly led to Trump's contrived story. Trump was fresh out of prison on an unrelated charge, and he was on parole when he was called into Kevin Crane's office. A classic scenario for the state to drum up false testimony. During his 2012 sworn habeas corpus testimony, Trump stated he was "scared out of his mind" during that unfortunate meeting and he was "under the guidance of the prosecutor's office." When Erickson and Trump took the stand at my habeas corpus hearing in April 2012 and admitted they lied at my trial, both men subjected themselves to perjury charges. This had never happened before in an American courtroom during a habeas hearing. Recanting witnesses may give affidavits admitting perjury but they rarely take the stand under oath and admit perjury because this act can carry with it a potential 30-year prison sentence. Powerful! How else do you describe a moment like this in a case that was built on nothing more than words? What could possibly be more reliable than witnesses subjecting themselves to a veritable lifetime in prison just for coming clean? Excerpted from Stronger, Faster, Smarter: A Guide to Your Most Powerful Body by Ryan Ferguson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.