TODAY   |  November 13, 2013

Ryan Ferguson: ‘I feel positive about the future’

Ryan Ferguson, who was released from prison after his murder conviction was overturned, talks to Savannah Guthrie about his feelings, family, and plans for the future.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> but we'll begin this half hour with the first full day of freedom in nearly a decade for a missouri man whose murder conviction has now been overturned. we'll talk live to ryan ferguson in just a moment. but first, here's john yang with the story.

>> reporter: after nearly a decade behind bars, ryan ferguson is now a freeman. his convicted wiped clean. embracing his sister and thanking supporters.

>> it was a wild day for sure. a lot going on. a lot of emotions.

>> reporter: in the backseat of his parents car ferguson left the courthouse in columbia, missouri last night. hours before the missouri attorney general said he would not retry him for the 2001 murder of a local newspaper editor.

>> i didn't know this morning that i'd be standing here tonight. i didn't know anything.

>> reporter: prison officials told him to pack but he didn't know why. when his attorney showed up, they weren't allowed to speak.

>> she just held this up and this is how i knew what was going on.

>> it is over.

>> reporter: it's the end of an ordeal that began in 2003 when a childhood friend said he had repressed memories that he and ferguson committed the murder after a night of heavy drinking when they were 17. the friend testified against him as part of a plea deal. ferguson was sentenced to 40 years in prison. last year, his accuser took it all back.

>> to get charged for a crime you didn't commit it's incredibly easy and you can lose your life very fast but to get out of prison it takes an army.

>> reporter: what's the first thing he wanted to eat?

>> i don't know. i kind of want some dairy queen .

>> reporter: instead, in this picture posted on facebook, he settled for a steak. for today, john yang , nbc news, chicago.

>>> ryan ferguson is with us along with his father, bill, and his attorneys. good morning to you all of you.

>> good morning.

>> good morning.

>> ryan , something happened this morning that hasn't happened to you in almost a decade. you woke up as a free person. how did that feel?

>> i haven't yet gone to sleep. so still can't quite answer that question. it's been a wild ride and, you know, seeing the light come out and, you know, the sun come up, it's pretty incredible. and looking out on the street with my family, with his attorneys, it's a great feeling.

>> i was going to say there's so much that so many of us take for granted. today is wednesday. you can do whatever you want today. no one can tell you what to do. what's it like to contemplate that?

>> i don't know that i can contemplate that. it's beyond my comprehension. but definitely look forward to the day and just going to be with my family and take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way. so, yeah. it will be amazing.

>> can you take me back to that moment yesterday when you realized it's over, i'm free, i'm out of prison?

>> it came a couple of times, actually. i thought it was going to happen earlier and then we had to go through some things. so whenever i finally realized it was actually over, it was incredible relief because, you know, i was afraid -- i wasn't sure what was going to happen next. they don't really tell you a whole lot. so i mean, yeah, it was a sensation like no other and seeing my family right there and hugging them and knowing that we're going to go home together, it was amazing.

>> let me bring your dad in here because bill you have worked tirelessly to free your son. i think about your dedication, pouring your life savings, your time into winning this conviction to be overturned. how do you feel? what's it like to wake up to have your son with you this morning?

>> well, it's the best feeling ever. it just feels like we rescued him from the pitts of despair and we had a lot of help and the two people in front of us were instrumental in rescuing ryan . so we feel really fortunate.

>> and let me turn to your lawyer, kathleen, is this really, really over? because i think so many of us in this country are accustomed to a legal system where there always seems to be another surprise around the corner?

>> no, it's completely over. the evidence against him was fabricated. we proved that. and unless they want to fabricate more evidence, this is completely over.

>> well, ryan , i spoke to your mom last week after the news of this first came out and she said the thing she was looking forward to was giving you a hug, not just for a couple of seconds under the watchful eye of a prison guard but for a good long time. did she give you that hug and how did it feel?

>> it was incredible. definitely got the hug. that's the first thing. the second, they took the shackles off me. got to hug my mother and, of course, she was crying a little bit and kind of got me. but, yeah, it was amazing to know that, you know, we're actually able to live our lives together again. and move forward and rebuild our lives.

>> and how do you plan to rebuild your life? have you thought about what you would like to do? you were a teenager when this all started?

>> yeah, i've been writing a lot. i have a book i've been writing for some time now and, you know, i'm just going to continue to work hard and take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way and if there's not a lot of opportunities i'm going to make a few. i have an amazing support system and amazing family. incredible attorneys. so definitely going to move forward and i feel very positive about the future.

>> well, ryan and bill ferguson , thank you. doug johnson , kathleen, thank you so you as well. enjoy your day.

>> thank you.

>> and we're going to have a lot more on dateline with ryan ferguson 's story.

>> we sure are. you wonder about a case like that. you can't get those years back.

>> you can't and there were multiple appeals. this has been going on for years. good that he finally won his freedom. let us take a