Paey given full pardon
Linda Paey, front-left, pleads for her husband Richard Paey's release. Looking on, from left, is Catherine Paey, 17, who is Richard Paey's daughter; Alexis Muckle, a family friend; and Paey's attorney, John Flannery. (AP Photo/Phil Coale)
Richard Paey is a chronic pain patient in year three of a 25-year mandatory-minimum sentence for trafficking in drugs -- his own pain medication. But his freedom is just hours away.
Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet voted unanimously to grant the Pasco County man a full pardon this morning for his 2004 conviction on drug trafficking and possession charges.
"We aim to right a wrong and exercise compassion and to do it with grace," the governor said. "Congratulations ... and I state he should be released today."
With that, 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.
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 amoung 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 dias 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 Jonh'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."
She didn't even know how she would get the news to her husband at Tomoka Correctional Institution in Daytona Beach: "He'll be shocked. We're all shocked."
After the cameras left, tears quickly turned to laughter in the atrium outside as the family spoke about having their father back in their lives.
Flannery, the family and a state official huddled to discuss the logistics of freeing Richard Paey and driving down to Daytona Beach to pick him up today and take him home to Pasco County.
-- JAMAL THALJI, Times staff writer