October 31, 2014

Ryan Ferguson: Free at last

Ryan FergusonI first wrote about Ryan Ferguson in the post Injustice in plain sight. When a local judge in Columbia decided to not vacate Ryan’s sentence after the two eyewitnesses who put him there recanted their testimony, I got personally involved and called the Attorney General’s office. Ryan’s story is a perfect example of how wrongful convictions happen and why they are so difficult to rectify once they occur.

Our flawed justice system does not like to admit mistakes. The prosecutor in this case is now a judge. I’m sure he will be quoted in the news saying how he still believes that Ryan is guilty. He doesn’t want to admit that he took ten years of a man’s freedom away from him. That judge who decided that he didn’t see any reason to vacate the sentence, is going to say that the higher court got it wrong. But they are the ones who got it wrong.

How do innocent people get convicted of crimes they didn’t commit? Many times it starts with overzealous detectives who manipulate vulnerable individuals into making false confessions. It happened in this case. More on that in a minute. To really understand the phenomenon of false confessions, you need to watch the Frontline documentary The Confessions.

It was a false confession that led to this fiasco. The person who made that confession is still in prison. His name is Charles Erickson. Charles hasn’t gotten the level of support that Ryan has, partly because of his courtroom testimony that so convincingly tightened the noose around Ryan’s neck. But he is as innocent as Ryan. Just go back and look at the film of the police feeding him information to make his confession better fit the facts.

I’m glad that Ryan is free. I hope, but doubt, that he can sue the state for the time he lost and the high cost to his family and friends. I hope that Charles Erickson will follow in Ryan’s path to freedom.

Those of us who have followed this case know that a great deal of credit goes to Ryan’s dad Bill. He has pursued justice from the day his son was first arrested. So Ryan you owe your dad and attorney Kathleen Zellner a few beers. If you’re in my neck of the woods, give me a call and the drinks will be on me.

Update:

If you would like to help Ryan have a fresh start, you can contribute to a crowdfunding campaign that has been setup on his behalf.

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