MTV isn't a newcomer to the investigative reality show genre. With the docuseries Unlocking The Truth , the network applies the road trip documentary style of Catfish: The TV Show to a mission that ought to interest viewers of the Netflix series Making A Murderer. The series takes another look at the cases of convicts who claim they have been wrongfully convicted. And, like Catfish co-host Nev Schulman comes to each story of online misrepresentation from the perspective of someone who's lived it, Unlocking The Truth host Ryan Ferguson knows about miscarriage of justice. According to ABC News, Ferguson served nearly 10 years after being wrongfully convicted for murder before being exonerated in 2013.
Now, the freed man is a personal trainer and writer as well as an advocate for other potential wrongfully convicted people. 13 years ago, Ferguson probably harbored no dreams of one day hosting his own show on MTV. CBS News reports that he lost his freedom at 19, sentenced to a Missouri prison after being wrongfully convicted of beating Columbia Daily Tribune sports writer Kent Heitholt to death. According to CBS News, it was Halloween night, and 17-year-old Ferguson was out drinking with his friend Chuck Erickson until approximately 1:30 a.m. The outlet reported that Heitholt was last seen by his co-worker Michael Boyd just after 2:00 a.m. in the paper's parking lot. CNN reported that, two years after the murder, "Erickson told police he had 'dream-like' memories of committing the crime," and he implicated Ferguson. Both were arrested in March 2004. Ferguson always maintained his innocence, but NBC News reported that Erickson plead guilty "to a lesser sentence of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery," and, in turn, testified against Ferguson.
In 2012, Erickson recanted the testimony that led to Ferguson's wrongful murder conviction, according to the above ABC News story. That testimony was the crux of the prosecution's case, since none of the physical evidence collected from the site where Heitholt died could be linked to either man. "The reason that I felt I needed to lie and make things up is because I couldn't remember anything," Erickson claimed of his recanted testimony to 48 Hours correspondent Erin Moriarty in 2013, according to CBS News.
A year after Erickson recanted his comments, Ferguson was released. Erickson is still serving time, but he claimed to CBS News that he now believes that he had nothing to do with Heitholt's death. Ferguson walked back into public life determined to spare others the fate that he was handed. "I am bitter," Ferguson told CBS News after the ruling was overturned. "But I try take that negativity and turn it into a positive action." He's even supporting Erickson's bid for release, according to the aforementioned CNN article. "He's not a murderer. He's been taken advantage of by those in the justice system," Ferguson claimed to the outlet.
For Unlocking The Truth, Ferguson is teaming up with director of the Exoneration Project, Eva Nagao, to seek belated justice for other potentially wrongfully convicted people. Part of the organization's mission statement reads: "The criminal justice system is imperfect, and there are many wrongful convictions resulting from problems such as faulty evidence, police misconduct, and inadequate legal representation. We represent those whom the system has failed." In a recent interview with The Kansas City Star, Ferguson explained why MTV is the ideal network for a show of this nature. He said: "To me, the youth, these are the people who could be potentially affected by this more than anyone else. They are also the ones who can make the most significant change moving forward."
Ryan Ferguson's Unlocking The Truth premieres Aug. 17 and will be simulcast on Facebook Live and YouTube, according to Variety. Given his own background on the subject matter, it should definitely be an interesting watch.