updated 9/20/2007 11:59:31 PM ET 2007-09-21T03:59:31

A disabled former attorney who said he needed large amounts of drugs to numb his pain was released from prison Thursday after the governor and the rest of the state clemency board pardoned his drug trafficking charges.

Richard Paey, 48, learned Thursday he’d be released after four years. He expected to die in jail, and credited Gov. Charlie Crist and national advocacy groups with helping free him.

“He’s a brave man, and it takes a great leader to show a small person mercy,” Paey said of Crist.

Paey was sentenced to 25 years in prison after prosecutors argued that he had forged so many prescriptions and purchased so many pain pills he must have been selling them, despite no additional evidence. The case gained national attention as an example of outrageous mandatory minimum drug sentences.

Paey and his supporters have argued that he never distributed any drugs — that he purchased and consumed huge amounts on his own for constant pain. Paey has been debilitated by a 1985 car accident suffers from multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair.

He refused to accept a plea because he didn’t want to be branded a drug dealer.

The case illustrates flaws in the law and how people who are dependent on strong pain medication can get tangled up in the government’s effort to combat drugs, Paey’s attorney, John Flannery of Leesburg, Va., said. Because of mandatory minimum sentences, the judge in Paey’s case had no choice but the 25-year sentence after he was conviction.

The board — Crist, State Attorney Bill McCollum, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson — voted unanimously to approve Paey’s release, overriding the recommendation of the parole commission that his application be denied.

“We aim to right a wrong and to exercise compassion,” said Crist, who moved for the pardon after the board heard emotional testimony from Paey’s wife, two daughters, a son and neighbor.

Man: 'There's no place like home'
State Attorney Bernie McCabe, whose office prosecuted Paey, said he had no reaction to the news.

Paey had a broad smile as he exited the vehicle driven by prison officials to his Hudson home in Pasco County.

“In the immortal words of Dorothy...there’s no place like home,” Paey said, pausing in mid-sentence to kiss his wife Linda.

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