TAMPA (FOX 13) - Ruben Rodriguez walked out of jail and into the arms of his 11-year-old son. Hours earlier, a jury found Rodriguez not guilty in the shooting death of Enrique Garcia.
He says, at first he heard it wrong.
"When they read it, they read it really, really fast. So I thought they said ‘guilty,’" explained a relieved Rodriguez.
But it was “not guilty” and it was followed by a lot tears of joy.
It's been over two years since Rodriguez's life changed forever. The Army veteran saw two men running away from his shed. He told his then-girlfriend Crystal Henderson on grab his AR-15 rifle.
Both jumped in his car and approached Garcia and his friend Steve Martinez.
"If it wasn't for my military training, I wouldn't be sitting here with you right now," Rodriguez continued.
A toxicologist testified Garcia had alcohol and a lot of meth in his system, which could explain why Crystal said he was so aggressive -- even putting the barrel of the rifle in his own mouth and daring Rodriguez to shoot him.
"He said, ‘I'm not afraid to die,’" Henderson testified.
As they struggled over the gun, Rodriguez shot and killed Garcia. He said he was in fear for his life and pulled the trigger out of self-defense.
The jury agreed.
"I can't change it now,” explained Rodriguez. “Would I like to? Yes. But I can't.”
Locked up for the last two and a half years, Rodriguez was stripped of his freedom, his family, his safety.
“A lot of people went in there that knew that guy that was killed and you're looking over your back the entire time -- are they gonna do something crazy?"
Attorneys Anthony Rickman and Dave Knox knew they had a winning case.
"It’s an amazing feeling to know our client has a life now," said Rickman, who often provides commentary on court cases for FOX 13.
“As the evidence was coming out, I felt so strong in his innocence that it was overwhelming,” offered know. “Had they said anything other than ‘not guilty,’ I would have been devastated.”
While smiles and laughs have retuned for Rodriguez, he also came of this situation a changed man with a new perspective on life and family.
“Hug them before you leave, kiss them before you leave, ‘I love you’ before you leave," he added.