After Ryan had been in court several times over the years, most of Ryan’s case revolved around testimony from his friend Charles Erickson and Jerry Trump (a convicted sex offender). In March of 2013 at yet another court hearing, Jerry Trump admitted he lied under oath about seeing Ryan at the scene of the crime. In the months to follow, Ryan’s case was heard by the Missouri Court of Appeals, and eventually the ruling was overturned and Ryan was granted a release from prison. Ryan’s family knew that he couldn’t have done this heinous crime, so they began an almost decade long campaign to free their son from prison. My day of documenting Ryan's release was a roller coaster, as I had been following this case almost since the beginning, so I was very excited and eager to capture his face as he walked out of prison a free man. After traveling from St. Louis to Jefferson City, and arriving at the JCCC, I was on pins and needles as I had eagerly been anticipating this day! I parked my vehicle in the parking lot right outside of the prison entrance and walked right into the prison (a very strange feeling, as I had never been inside of a prison before), and to my surprise, walking out of the restricted area of the prison was Dateline NBC’s Keith Morrison (my favorite news commentator). I asked him if I could have my picture with him, and told him I was a BIG fan. After we snapped a quick iPhone picture, he and the rest of the Dateline crew departed the prison, and I thought that was the last time I would see Keith. I was then told by the prison officials that NO media was allowed to be on the prison grounds under any circumstance, so I got in my vehicle and drove the long curvy road off of the prison grounds and parked on the side road right at the entrance, so I could at least grab a picture of Ryan in his Dad’s “Free Ryan Ferguson” Toyota Camry.
I sat there in my vehicle for about 20 minutes, and all of the sudden every news crew in the state, including Keith Morrison, pulled up right beside me, and at that point I knew that I was at the RIGHT place to capture this awesome moment in Ryan Ferguson and his family's lives. I then began talking to the other media people and making friends, one of which happened to be the producer for CBS’s 48 Hours. We were all waiting and waiting for Ryan’s family to enter the prison grounds, and just like that, we all saw the “Free Ryan Ferguson” Toyota Camry in the distance.
The only sounds you could hear were camera shutters…literally it was dead silent except for the shutters. It was quite spectacular. No one expected the Camry to stop, but Ryan’s dad Bill, his mom Leslie, girlfriend Myka, and a childhood friend stopped and addressed the media upon entering the grounds.
After speaking for just a few minutes, it was clear that Bill still wasn’t confident that this situation was over, saying, “this nightmare won’t be over until Ryan is in this car.”
It was at that time that the 48 hours producer that I had earlier befriended needed a picture to “tweet” and I told her that she could use one of my images, so I got my laptop out and quickly transferred my pictures from my camera to my laptop so I could email her a picture. A few minutes later a tweet from CBS’s 48 hours was tweeted using one of my pictures. The family proceeded, and after having been on the grounds for almost 30 minutes, we saw the Toyota Camry winding down the curvy prison road, and again it was silent except for the sounds of camera shutters. The car stopped to address the media again, and just like Bill stated before entering the prison grounds, this case wouldn’t be over until Ryan was in his car. In a bizarre twist, Bill told us that Ryan needed to transferred in the prison van, shackled and wearing the traditional prison jumpsuit to the Boone County jail, and be released there, because that’s where Ryan was originally booked nearly 10 years ago. Everyone hurried back to their vehicles to head back to Boone County for Ryan’s release. By this time, it felt like half of Columbia, MO knew he was going to be released and wanted to watch Ryan walk out a free man. It took nearly an hour for the prison van to finally show up to the Boone County jail, but it finally showed up and we all got our first glance of Ryan inside of the van, and within about 20 minutes of the van pulling into the garage, the door opened again, this time with Ryan inside of the “Free Ryan Ferguson” Toyota Camry.
We all got into our vehicles again and raced quickly to the Tiger Hotel in downtown Columbia, MO for Ryan to address the nation through every single major news channel: Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, etc, The time had finally come, and it sure was an emotional day of ups and downs, and twists and turns, but Ryan was finally FREE.
I hope everyone enjoyed my story of one of the BEST days as a photographer that I’ve ever had.