TODAY   |  November 06, 2013

Son’s thrown-out conviction has parents ‘vindicated’

Bill and Leslie Ferguson are the parents of Ryan Ferguson, who was convicted of murder in 2001, but whose case is now being questioned. In the wake of a state appeals court throwing out their son’s conviction, they tell TODAY they feel “vindicated,” though they are still cautious about what could happen in the coming days.

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>>> a missouri man who spent a decade in prison for a murder he did not commit. key witnesses recanted and a state appeals court overturned that conviction. we'll talk to his parents in just a moment. first, here is john yang with the back story.

>> reporter: ryan ferguson 's father it's the day he's long been hoping for.

>> i feel vindicated for ryan that he's always said he was innocent.

>> reporter: in a strongly worded ruling tuesday, an appeals court threw out his 29-year-old son's 2005 conviction as not worthy of either judicial or public confidence. in a jailhouse interview, ryan ferguson talked to "dateline" which covered his story for several years.

>> your soul has been taken from you almost. you know? you just deal with so much that you feel empty inside.

>> reporter: ferguson was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the 2001 halloween night murder of a local newspaper editor. ferguson and childhood friend chuck ericsson both 17 at the time had spent the night drinking heavily in a college bar. later ericsson said he had repressed memories that he and ferguson committed the crime. ferguson denied it. ericsson testified against him as part of a plea deal .

>> i got to go to prison for the rest of my life. i have to tell them what that man did.

>> reporter: the appeals court said none of the physical evidence from the scene, dna, fingerprints, shoe prints was a match and ferguson 's attorneys argue that erickson's videotaped confession to police seemed less than certain.

>> it's just so hard. i could be sitting here denying this. i don't know.

>> reporter: last year ericsson took it all back.

>> i lied and i said i remembered things i didn't remember and said he did stuff that i don't remember him doing or me doing.

>> so did the only eyewitness saying he felt intimidated by investigators to identify ferguson .

>> i'd like to ask forgiveness from ryan . and his family.

>> reporter: now ferguson 's future rests with prosecutors. the court gave them 15 days to seek a new trial or set him free unconditionally. for "today," john yang , nbc news, chicago.

>> and ryan ferguson 's parents are with us now. good morning to both of you.

>> good morning.

>> good morning.

>> bill, i understand you were able to speak to ryan after this ruling came down. can you describe his reaction?

>> well, he was somber but very happy. he realizes there is another chapter to go. but he was elated. and expressed that. he expressed his happiness towards the great support he's received.

>> leslie , do you feel he's almost too cautious tore openly overjoyed at this point?

>> definitely cautious, yes. but i think the last nine years have taught us to be cautious.

>> this has been a long road. the ruling is striking. the judge wrote under the facts and circumstances of this case we conclude that ferguson did not receive a fair trial . his verdict is not worthy of confidence. after this long battle, bill, what did it feel like to read those words?

>> well, we feel totally vindicated. everything that ryan has said has come to be true. and he is an innocent man. he should be freed immediately.

>> as we know, it's the prosecutor's call now whether to refile the charges and subject your son to yet another trial. do you have any indication what the prosecutor plans to do, bill?

>> we have no idea at all. but it seems dubious considering there are no witnesses now. they all admitted they committed perjury and there is no physical evidence . there is no merit. this case has no merit.

>> i can't help but think of the victim's family here who have to also relive all of this. what do you feel about what they're going through right now?

>> well, we feel very badly for the family, we always have. we feel like the prosecutor has misled the family all the way through this. they said they had evidence that they didn't. and they totally misled them. now we're in the process of trying to find the perpetrators of the crime ourselves.

>> and in the short time i have left, leslie , what are you most looking forward to with ryan coming home?

>> giving him a really long hug. and just spending time together.

>> bill and leslie ferguson , thank you for being here.

>> thank you for having us. thank you.