At times joking with the media and getting serious at others, Ryan Ferguson spoke for the first time as a free man.

Both Ferguson and his attorney, Kathleen T. Zellner, explained how quickly things happened, saying the trip Tuesday was originally supposed to be a scheduled visit.

"He didn't know what had happened. He thought they were actually going to put him in the hold today and that something was wrong. So I had to hold up a piece of paper on the glass that said, 'It's over,'" Zellner said.

The 29-year-old didn't even know he was about to be let free when he was told to change clothes.

"Having gone through what I've gone through with our justice system, it's kind of scary about what was going to happen next. I didn't know this morning that I'd be standing here tonight," he said.

When asked how confused he was Wednesday, Ferguson responded with a grin, "I'm still confused."

Ferguson began a press conference in Columbia thanking his parents, his sister, his friends who have supported him, his attorneys and his girlfriend.

"Without them, I wouldn't have had any hope," he said.

He said he's ecstatic that justice has been done, but he's still in so much disbelief that he doesn't know where life will go from this point on.

"I can get back to living my life, although I don't know how that will feel," Ferguson said. "I don't know that I was expecting just to get out and do whatever I wanted. I couldn't look too far into the future. But I've been preparing for my life from day one. I've been reading and writing and studying, working out and taking care of myself, so I'm ready for anything."

Those in the crowd followed that up with suggesting Ferguson aim for one day being the mayor of Columbia or the next attorney general. This was followed by many cheers and clapping.

This all comes after Attorney General Chris Koster announced Tuesday he has decided not to retry Ferguson for the 2001 slaying of Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.

In a written statement he released, Koster said, "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."

"I feel like this is really the first time we've been listened to by the justices and it feels incredible knowing that, when we had our hearing, they were actually listening to the facts, they were actually talking about the facts and it seemed as though they were actually going to rule on the facts, which is different than what I've seen before," Ferguson said Tuesday.

Ferguson had maintained his innocence while serving a 40-year sentence.

"To get arrested and 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, an incredible group of individuals … who are willing to sacrifice so much," Ferguson said.

On Nov. 5, a state appeals court panel overturned the murder conviction, saying the prosecutor's office withheld evidence from defense attorneys that could have aided Ferguson during his trial.

Now 29, Ferguson spoke with calm, poise and even a sense of humor about all that he has missed in his time behind bars. When asked to characterize the whole experience, Ferguson responded, "I don't know how I can characterize a decade."

He and his family will continue working for the wrongly imprisoned, he said, but first he plans to go to Dairy Queen.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.



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