An appeals court Tuesday vacated the murder conviction of a Missouri man nine years into a 40-year prison sentence for the 2001 Halloween night killing of a newspaper editor, according to a court document.
The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District ruled that prosecutors withheld key evidence from defense attorneys in the trial of Ryan Ferguson, who was 19 when Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt was found strangled in the newspaper's parking lot.
"Under the facts and circumstances of this case, we conclude that Ferguson did not receive a fair trial," Judge Cynthia Martin wrote in a summary of her decision. "His verdict is not worthy of confidence."
Ferguson, who was convicted in 2005 of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery, has been profiled by several national television programs, including NBC's "Dateline."
Ferguson was found guilty after a friend told police in Columbia, Mo., that they both took part in killing Heitholt.
A well-regarded newspaper editor, Kent Heitholt, is killed on Halloween night in Columbia, Missouri, as a full moon looms overhead. Ryan Ferguson and a friend remember being at a nearby college bar that same night. Police search for two young men but the trail goes cold.
Ferguson has not disputed he was drinking under the legal age at a nearby bar with his friend, Charles Erickson, near the newspaper office Oct. 31, 2001. However, he has repeatedly denied that he had any involvement in the murder and had fought to overturn his conviction since that time.