Kindred spirits

Among the family and friends staked out at the Jefferson City Correctional Center last week in anticipation of Ryan Ferguson’s release was Kevin Green, a convicted killer who was exonerated after 15.5 years in prison.

Green, a Jefferson City man whose case has parallels to Ferguson’s, had been in contact with Ryan Ferguson’s father, Bill. Now he’s offering his support and advice to Ryan Ferguson, including advice on how to reintegrate into society.

“My goal is to be on the sideline and to offer my point of view to Ryan, my experience as to what he’ll go through now,” Green said.

After Ferguson was freed, he offered him some quick encouragement before his new conference. Pointing to the throng of media and supporters waiting for Ferguson to speak, Green told him: “All this stuff — enjoy it. You deserve this.”

In 1980, Green was convicted in California of second-degree murder for the death of his unborn baby and attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon for an attack on his wife. The court deemed his wife a reliable witness even though she had suffered brain damage and amnesia, and she testified against him. He was convicted mainly on that testimony, as the case lacked corroborative evidence.

In 1996, Green was freed after DNA evidence matched a felon named Gerald Parker, a serial killer called the “Bedroom Basher” for breaking into women’s bedrooms to rape and kill them. Parker confessed to attacking Green’s wife, as well as five other murders.

Green was awarded a settlement of $620,000 from the state of California, and he speaks about his experience near and far, to everyone from local church groups to bar associations and law enforcement groups in other states.

In 2001, when Columbia Daily Tribune Sports Editor Kent Heitholt was killed, Green took notice. He especially tuned in two years later, when authorities got a confession from Chuck Erickson after Erickson had dream-like visions that he was involved in the killing. In his confession, Erickson said he and Ferguson had killed Heitholt.

“From the beginning, I was like, ‘No, no, no, this doesn’t sound right at all,’” Green said.

A few years later, after Erickson and Ferguson were convicted and in prison, Green, a car salesman at Riley Toyota, was at work getting a car for someone to look at. Then it dawned on him — his customer was Ryan Ferguson’s father, Bill. Green introduced himself, and told Bill Ferguson his story. Not long afterward, through Ferguson’s father, Green spoke briefly with Ryan by phone.

In Ferguson’s case, the two key witnesses against Ferguson had recanted their testimony.

“I just know he missed all of his 20s. I did too,” Green said. “You’re coming into a world where you’re going to have 18-year-olds telling you what do do because they have more experience.”

He said Ferguson will face many obstacles now that he’s a free man, and he shouldn’t be afraid to rely on the support of his family and friends.

In the cases of Green and Ferguson, both were high-profile cases and both were followed by the Innocence Project, a not-for-profit group dedicated to investigating and exonerating people who were wrongfully convicted.

Part of Green’s focus is to let people know that, while many convicts are guilty, some aren’t. And because they aren’t white and middle-class, their cases aren’t as prominent in the media.

Green has tried to shed light on those situations.

“I’ve broke bread in prison with many people who need to be there,” Green said. “But I also know from rubbing elbows and breading bread” with inmates that some are innocent.

He’s also testified on bills at the Capitol dealing with DNA evidence and compensation for imprisoned felons who are exonerated.

“When I came out, there was a great interest” because he was well-spoken and from a white, middle-class family, Green said. “I think that’s why there’s an interest in him. He (Ferguson) has a responsibility now, and I think he’s already doing it, to speak out for those who don’t have those advantages. And I applaud him for doing that.”

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