*This story has been updated with comments from Ryan Ferguson at a news conference after his release Tuesday.
COLUMBIA — Ryan Ferguson rode out of the Boone County Jail, in the car bearing his own image and the words "Free Ryan Ferguson," a few minutes before 6 p.m. Tuesday after serving almost eight years of a 40-year sentence for robbery and murder.
He was smiling broadly as the crowd gathered outside the jail cheered wildly, the culmination of a seven-year effort to clear him of a crime he has always said he didn't commit.
After his release, Ferguson answered questions in front of a laughing, cheering crowd at the Tiger Hotel.
"I feel like Jay Leno or something," Ferguson said after taking the podium.
Thanking his parents and the friends who supported him from the beginning of his incarceration, Ferguson brought attention to others who he said were wrongfully imprisoned.
"There are more innocent people in prison, so keep your eyes open and support them as well," he said.
Ferguson said he wasn't sure what he would do now that he's free. But at the end of the news conference, his attorney, Kathleen Zellner, offered a hint.
"We're either going to Dairy Queen or ring the bell at the courthouse," she said. "We're out of here."
A news release from the Missouri attorney general's office earlier in the day announced that the state would not pursue any action against Ferguson. Tuesday was the deadline set in Zellner's motion to release Ferguson on bond.
The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District vacated Ferguson's convictions Nov. 5. Ferguson was found guilty in December 2005 of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the 2001 murder of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.
The convictions were vacated because during Ferguson's 2005 trial, the prosecution, led by now-13th Circuit Judge Kevin Crane, didn't disclose information to the defense, in what is called a Brady violation. The state had 15 days from the day the opinion was issued to decide if it wanted to retry Ferguson.
Boone County Chief Prosecutor Dan Knight asked Friday that a special prosecutor be named to re-examine the case and decide on a possible retrial. Assistant Attorney General Susan Boresi was appointed in an order by Judge Steve Ohmer of the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court in St. Louis.
But that brief chapter in the lengthy Ferguson story ended quickly Tuesday with the announcement by the attorney general's office.
In a brief telephone interview Tuesday before Ferguson's release, Zellner said her client would be exonerated.
"It was fabulous," she said. "It's the best thing in the world. They're giving him his life back, getting him back to his family. This is even better than we thought. It's over."
Text of the news release from the attorney general's office.
Attorney General Koster announces decision in Ryan Ferguson case
Jefferson City, Mo. – After studying the appellate court’s opinion in Ferguson v. Dormire and carefully reviewing the remaining known evidence in the case, the Attorney General’s office will not retry or pursue further action against Ryan Ferguson at this time.
A response regarding Ryan Ferguson's release from the Jefferson City Correctional Center.