JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – A man who spent nearly 10 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder has filed a $100 million lawsuit against police detectives and the prosecutor who got him convicted.
Ryan Ferguson was 17 when Columbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt was found murdered in the paper’s parking lot in 2001. Ferguson was convicted of the murder in 2005 and was serving a 40-year prison term when his conviction was overturned in November 2013.
Ferguson claims in a 50-page federal lawsuit that police fabricated evidence, bullied witnesses and ignored other leads during the investigation.
Ferguson sued the City of Columbia, Boone County, former Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm, seven detectives in the Columbia Police Department, two investigators from the Boone County Prosecuting Attorney’s office, and Kevin Crane, a former prosecutor now turned Cole County judge.
Prosecutors based their case on the confession of Chuck Erickson, Ferguson’s friend. Erickson came forth more than two years after the murder said he believed he had repressed memories of Ferguson committing the murder. Desperate for a conviction, Ferguson claims, investigators fed Erickson information about the murder during his alleged interrogation.
Ferguson claims investigators failed to pursue a tip that would have led to a co-worker of Heitholt’s. He claims the co-worker got into an argument with Heitholt the night of the murder and that papers belonging to the co-worker were found near Heitholt’s body.
A Missouri appeals court overturned the conviction on Nov. 5, 2013, finding that prosecutors wrongfully withheld evidence from the defense.
Attorney General Chris Koster said he will not retry Ferguson, who was released from prison after 3,533 days in confinement.
“Ryan’s new identity upon walking out of prison is that of a 29-year-old, uneducated, jobless man without health care or funds for psychological counseling,” the lawsuit states. “For years he was branded as a brutal murderer and those scars cannot be excised.”
The lawsuit was filed on the 10th anniversary of Ferguson’s first police interrogation.
“I found myself in an interrogation room being threatened and lied to by the very people we expect to protect us,” Ferguson wrote on the Freed Ryan Ferguson Facebook page Monday. “The people whose (sole) responsibility it is to seek justice … at least that’s the common misperception portrayed to the public.
“Ten years ago today, I never would have believed I’d end up spending almost my entire twenties in prison for a crime I had nothing to do with. But I did. Can’t change that. An apology would be nice, though.”
Ferguson seeks $75 million in actual damages and $25 million in punitive damages for violations of due process, malicious prosecution, conspiracy, failure to intervene, false arrest and defamation. He is represented by Samuel Henderson of St. Louis.
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