DAYTONA BEACH — A victim in the war on drugs, Richard Paey was just wheeled out of prison by a guard, a free man for the first time in 3 ½ years thanks to an immediate and unexpected pardon by Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet this morning.
''I feel pretty good. I feel pretty good,'' he said, squinting in the sunshine from his wheelchair. "Today was the day for miracles. I didn't think this day would come.''
Mr. Paey, who was serving a 25-year sentence in connecton with prescription for painkillers, became a rallying cause for chronic-pain patients and doctors across America. (You can read more about his case in this column about my visit with Mr. Paey in prison, as well as another column about the prosecutor in the case.) After hearing his case presented to the state clemency board, Gov. Crist said: "We aim to right a wrong and exercise compassion and to do it with grace."
Then, according to the St. Petersburg Times, "Paey's wife Linda, their three children, a family friend and attorney John Flannery II hugged and cried at the podium, the entire cabinet meeting room erupting into applause at 9:40 a.m." The story continues:
It was a stunning turn in the long saga of Paey, a 48-year-old Hudson man who suffers debilitating pain from a 1985 car wreck, botched back surgery and multiple sclerosis that has left him needing the use of a wheelchair in prison.
He was first arrested in 1997 and convicted on the third try in 2004 of possessing, trafficking and illegally obtaining the medication he needs for the searing, fiery pain in his back and legs.
His supporters still contest every bit of the state's case and today, they finally found sympathetic ears eager to help. His medical condition is real, they told the cabinet, evidenced by the amount of painkillers the Department of Corrections itself now gives to Richard Paey every day.
What makes Thursday's development all the more surprising was that the Florida Parole Commission actually recommended against commuting Paey's sentence to time served.
But then Crist allowed Flannery to speak for nearly 30 minutes — much more than the 5-minute limit. Then the governor allowed Linday Paey, their three children and even a family friend to speak.
After their emotional presentation, the first comments from the dais came from the governor:
"I want to move that we grant a full pardon." All three cabinet members agreed.
The family had never hoped for a full pardon or even thought to ask. It was just the start of a day of surprises for Linda Paey and her children.
"I grabbed John's hand, we came into this so scared, trembling," she said. "I was so fearful when I heard the parole commission did not support his application.
"It was a complete shock," she said of Crist's recommending a full pardon and ordering her husband's release today. "I didn't know you could do that."