updated 7/16/2004 12:09:28 PM ET 2004-07-16T16:09:28

A guilt-ridden fugitive who turned himself in after 20 years served just 45 days in prison for drug smuggling because a judge was moved by the man’s integrity.

Rene Alzugaray-Cira, 62, who had been held in Miami’s Federal Detention Center since he turned himself in last month, could have been sentenced to 10 years.

“Go home to your daughter and your little grandbabies and live out the rest of your life,” Senior U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King said Thursday in sentencing Alzugaray to time served.

Alzugaray was arrested in 1984 after he was found on a boat loaded with marijuana. He pleaded guilty — though in court this week he said he was never a smuggler — but skipped his sentencing.

“I was scared,” he said. “I panicked because I thought I would be going to prison for a long time.”

For two decades, Alzugaray built lobster traps and picked vegetables in Florida. But in the past year, he reunited with his adult daughter, who urged him to turn himself in to ease his troubled conscience.

The prosecution and defense had recommended Alzugaray receive a two-year sentence.  But King warmed to Alzugaray’s case when assistant public defender Stewart Abrams said his client “came to the courthouse door and said, ’I did something wrong. I want to make amends.”’ Because the federal court system had no sentencing guidelines when Alzugaray pleaded guilty, King had leeway to determine the sentence.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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