TAMPA — Rene Garcia Myles stood in a federal courtroom Friday afternoon, facing the judge who locked him away for life 19 years ago.
Once again, Chief U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich had a decision to make about his sentence.
The crack cocaine dealer once called "a thorn in the side of West Tampa" had provided the FBI with information he learned in prison that was critical to several criminal investigations.
Dozens of his family members looked on as prosecutors asked the judge to reduce his sentence from two consecutive life terms to a range of 27 to 34 years.
Family members knew the decision was entirely up to the judge.
They clutched hands as she delivered her decision:
"Time served," she said. He would walk away a free man.
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The last time he was free, Myles was 22, with 10 felony convictions to his name.
Authorities executed a search warrant in 1989 at his Chestnut Street home and found more than 2 ounces of crack cocaine. Under a federal statute at the time, two or more prior felony convictions for drug offenses resulted in a mandatory life sentence without parole.
Everyone made an example of him. Prosecutors called a news conference. A Tampa police deputy chief called him "the kind of nightmare that's been haunting public housing for years."
And after she handed him his sentence, Judge Kovachevich cautioned "others on the street" to take heed of the consequences.
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Much has changed.
On Friday, Kovachevich reviewed a motion filed by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Adams, detailing his help in the government's investigations.
Prosecutors say Myles helped catch five corrupt prison guards and several other workers at Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Sumter County who, authorities say, were being paid to bring contraband into prison.
And he helped dismantle a 16-person marijuana ring and implicate 11 prison-gang members in a heroin conspiracy.
And he spoke out against members of the Latin Kings, white supremacists and the Texas Syndicate.
"He certainly has put himself at a tremendous risk,'' defense attorney Grady Irvin said.
Kovachevich looked at Myles again, now 41, and said, "The court's impressed."
She told him she'd received his letters, in which he wrote to her that he'd changed his life. And she commended him for "the danger to which you have exposed yourself and the persistent and continuing willingness on your part to do what needed to be done."
She told him she was letting him out of prison, but that he would be under supervision for three years. And she ordered him into vocational training, so that he could now make a legal living.
He said he made a great janitor in prison.
She told him, "I wish you well."
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His family poured out of the courtroom, still in tears from the surprise. Myles had missed so much — the death of his mother, the birth of his grandson, the childhoods of his seven kids, who have communicated with him mostly by letters.
He was gone two weeks after 19-year-old Re-Re Myles was born. She said her dad missed seeing her as a cheerleader, then a prom queen in high school. He missed her graduation.
"But now," she said, "it's all okay."
Myles wasn't able to reunite with his family at the courthouse, since he had to wait for paperwork to complete his release.
So Re-Re boarded an elevator with her little sister, Helena, who, at 18, is Myles' youngest. Inside, a relative reached his arms around Helena and told her, "You got your daddy, girl."
Staff Writer Kevin Graham contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@ sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.