Jason Puracal: 'I'm standing here before you today a free man'

SEATTLE -- After spending two years in a notoriously dangerous Nicaraguan prison, Jason Puracal is finally back in the Puget Sound.

The Tacoma native made his first public appearance Friday on the campus of the University of Washington, where he went to school.

Despite his conviction on money laundering and drug charges, his supporters always believed in Puracal's innocence. Those supporters came out in drovers on Friday to welcome him home after his conviction was overturned.

"I'm standing here before you today a free man," Puracal said.

In his first pubic appearance, Puracal showed his gratitude to the many people who helped him during his difficult journey. He singled out his wife and his 5-year-old son.

"They have suffered more than anyone will ever know. Gracias por todo. Te amo con todo mi corazn," he said.

Puracal also thanked the many people, some strangers, who sent him messages that he said lifted his spirits during the darkest days in prison.

"You all stepped up when I needed you most and you saved my life," he said. "That is a debt I can never repay but I intend to try. The love you've shown for me is the essence of the American spirit.."

Puracal said he won't let his experience be a set back and he's ready to move forward. He even said he'd like to return to school.

For his friends, Puracal's return doesn't quite feel real yet.

"Not yet. Not yet. The hug was real. It'll sink in now," said Mealanie Dorbuck.

Purcal originall went to Nicaruagua to help with sustainable development programs, and he want to continue that work in the Pacific Northwest by studying at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute and the University of Washington.