In 2013, after nearly 10 years behind bars, the court vacated Ryan Ferguson’s conviction in the 2001 killing of a Missouri journalist. His plight has pushed him to seek justice for others and build friendships with those whose lives were also turned upside down by wrongful convictions – including Amanda Knox.
Ferguson tells PEOPLE Now that connecting with Knox – whose conviction in the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher was overturned by Italy’s highest appeals court in 2015 – has “meant a lot.”
“There’s so many incredible people in the wrongful conviction community and the day I got out she held up that sign. It just meant so much,” Ferguson says, referencing a photo of Knox holding a “Welcome Home Ryan” sign after his release from prison.
Ferguson, 31, says he remembers when Knox got out of prison for the first time in 2011 when her conviction was overturned after she had served four years. The legal victor was short-lived, though, as Italy’s supreme court vacated Knox’s acquittal in 2014. A year later his conviction was again overturned.
“I cried that day,” Ferguson says of Knox’s 2011 release. “I was watching it on the news. What really struck me is, I’m watching the news and she’s in Italy and, I think it was CNN, they were like, ‘Aren’t you glad you’re in the American justice system?’ I’ve been locked up twice as long – I’m not so happy that I’m in this system.”
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The conference brings together exonerated people and their family and friends to meet with staff from Innocence Network member organizations, lawyers and elected officials, among others.
On Unlocking the Truth, Ferguson and Eva Nagao team up with the University of Chicago Law School’s Exoneration Project to investigate three claims of false imprisonment.
Helping others in a similar situation to his own has become Ferguson’s life pursuit – a project he couldn’t have undertaken without encouragement from Knox.
“I think talking to Amanda, one of the things I realized is that I thought I could move beyond [my imprisonment] and the fact is, if you go through this, you have scars and you have to just acknowledge those scars and deal with them,” he tells PEOPLE Now. “And that’s the hardest thing for me is dealing with that, acknowledging that and moving on.”
He adds, “My whole entire life I’ll be fighting for this.”