Richard Paey, 48, is in state prison for convictions related to buying drugs illegally to treat pain he says he has had since a 1985 car crash.
Richard Paey wants out of prison. He's serving 25 years for illegally obtaining the medication he said he needs for chronic pain. He turned down a lighter sentence because he doesn't think he did anything wrong.
His plight, his stand on principle, has earned him sympathy from across the nation.
But not much help. Not until recently.
Now the Hudson man has cleared a major hurdle in what his lawyer calls his "last real hope" for freedom: clemency.
The Florida Parole Commission recommended that Gov. Charlie Crist waive a key rule so the state's chief executive can consider whether to end Paey's days in prison.
That bureaucratic development is the first bit of good, concrete news Paey, 48, has heard since his plight began.
"It's been a very difficult process, " said Paey's attorney, John Flannery II of Virginia. "This is the first positive action that's been helpful."
Pasco deputies and federal agents arrested Paey in 1997 after he bought 1, 200 painkillers with fake prescriptions.
Three years ago, a Pasco jury reluctantly convicted the father of three for a host of drug charges: possessing them, trafficking in them and obtaining them by fraud. The judge reluctantly sent Paey to prison to serve the mandatory sentence.
Paey said he needs the drugs for debilitating pain, the result of a 1985 car crash, failed surgeries and multiple sclerosis that left him needing a wheelchair.
In December, an appellate court refused to overturn his conviction and sentence. But those judges offered a glimmer of hope by acknowledging his plight.
While the courts did not have the power to act, the judges wrote, Paey could ask the governor for help.
He did just that, petitioning Crist for clemency. In the meantime, the Florida Supreme Court refused in March to hear an appeal in Paey's case.
Paey considered an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. But then the Florida Parole Commission's recommendation arrived June 7 -- the deadline for Paey to appeal to the nation's highest court.
"We thought if we did that it would discourage the clemency process, " Flannery said, "and we wanted to show our faith in the clemency process."
Which means clemency is Paey's last realistic hope for getting out of prison.
It takes the governor and two cabinet members on Florida's clemency board to make a decision. They could commute Paey's sentence to time served, or reduce it from the original 25 years.
Crist has until September to decide whether to grant the waiver and bring Paey's petition before the board.
Normally a petitioner must have served at least a third of his sentence before he can apply for clemency. But a waiver can be granted to consider the case earlier if the appeal "demonstrates extraordinary merit."
The Florida Parole Commission recommended such a waiver in Paey's case.
If Crist does not grant Paey's waiver within the 90-day time limit, the appeal is denied.
In that case, Flannery believes his client will have to wait until he's served a third of his sentence - about eight years, or until 2012 - before Paey can ask for clemency again.
"The governor's clemency power is a power of grace ..., " the lawyer said. "We hope he'll decide not only to commute Richard's sentence, but that the time he's served is sufficient punishment for anything he may have done."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 869-6236
We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.