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Ryan Ferguson juror 'sorry' for 2004 murder conviction

Published On: Nov 14 2013 07:40:38 AM CST
Updated On: Nov 14 2013 07:45:01 AM CST
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ABC News

ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams talks via phone with a juror who chose to convict Ryan Ferguson of murder in 2004.

NEW YORK -

One of the jurors who helped put Ryan Ferguson behind bars almost a decade ago said he was "very" sorry and is now convinced Ferguson is innocent.

"We took away 10 years of his life," the man said. "He can never get that back."

The juror, whose identity is not being revealed, sat down for an interview with "Nightline" Wednesday, one day after 29-year-old Ferguson was released from prison when his 2004 murder conviction was overturned.

If given the chance to speak to Ferguson today, the juror said he would "apologize a million times over."

"I would apologize a million times over, telling him I'm sorry," he said. "That still wouldn't be enough."

In 2004, a jury convicted Ferguson, then just 19 years old, of brutally murdering Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt in the Tribune parking lot on Halloween night 2001.

None of the DNA collected at the scene -- the footprints and fingerprints -- matched Ferguson's, but the jury decided that testimony from Charles Erickson, one of Ferguson's classmates who claimed they had murdered Heitholt together, and Jerry Trump, a janitor who identified Ferguson as one of the two men he saw in the parking lot after the murder, was enough to convict him.

Based on their testimony, the juror said the 12-member jury's decision to convict Ferguson was unanimous.

"Charles Erickson and Jerry Trump hold a lot of weight in our minds," he said. "Everybody had the same feeling that because of Mr. Erickson and Mr. Trump that yes, he was guilty."

The juror also blamed Ferguson's trial lawyer at the time, saying he was "very hard to follow" and not very effective at delivering his case.

Ferguson was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Erickson was also convicted and sentenced to 25 years. He remains in prison.

Last April, both Erickson and Trump recanted their statements, saying they had lied under oath at the initial 2004 murder trial.

Upon learning that Erickson and Trump recanted, the juror said he was "shocked."

"I thought [Ferguson] should be released, and then I thought Ryan Ferguson should be released immediately," he said. "[I was] shocked and disappointed in myself for knowing that I probably did the wrong thing. But yet I had no way of making it right."

However, the juror was unsure that, even with the recanted testimony, Ferguson's fate would have been different.

"If you had to go and do that whole trial again and knowing then what we knew, I don't know if the outcome would be different," he said. "I can't say that because for now I know more and I just-- I don't know."

A Missouri state appeals court panel last week overturned Ferguson's murder conviction on the grounds that the prosecution withheld evidence from Ferguson's defense attorneys.

When Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced Tuesday that he would not retry or seek further legal action against Ferguson, he was allowed to leave prison once a Boone County judge signed off on the order. Ferguson was released from custody Tuesday evening.

"To get arrested and charged for a crime you didn't commit, it is incredibly easy and you can lose your life very fast, but to get out, it takes an army," Ferguson told a roomful of reporters, family and supporters at the Tiger Hotel in Columbia.

Ferguson could choose to file a civil suit against the state, but in an interview Wednesday on "Good Morning America," he said, for now, he was looking forward to enjoying his new freedom.

"I've had my whole twenties taken from me," Ferguson said. "I'm focused on spending time with my family. I haven't really looked into those issues. Really, it's just about getting on with life and getting back to some normalcy. That's my main focus right now."

When contacted by ABC News, both the defense and prosecution from Ferguson's 2004 trial declined to comment.

ABC News' Victoria Thompson and Dan Abrams contributed to this report

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