In 1985, Richard Paey was in a car accident in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that left him paraplegic and in constant pain. The after effects of the accident and a botched corrective surgery, as well as the onset of multiple sclerosis, required treatment with large amounts of prescription painkillers. In 1994, Paey moved to Hudson, Florida, and was unable to find a local physician willing to prescribe the volume of painkillers he required. His previous doctor in New Jersey agreed to continue to provide him with the necessary prescriptions. In 1996, in response to a routine query from local law enforcement, a pharmacy provided Paey’s name as someone prescribed unusually large amounts of prescription painkillers. When law enforcement called Paey’s physician in New Jersey, the physician initially confirmed that the prescriptions were valid. However, after police lied and told the physician that Paey had confessed to drug trafficking and that the physician would also be charged unless he denied the validity of the prescriptions, he said they were forged.
At trial, numerous pharmacists in Florida testified that on several occasions they called the physician in New Jersey and he confirmed that the prescriptions were authentic. Paey refused a plea bargain, and it took three trials for the state to get a conviction. In April 2004, a jury convicted Paey of drug trafficking, prescription forgery, and unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Though there was no evidence that Paey sold the drugs, Florida law permitted an inference of trafficking based on the amount of medication he possessed. Paey was sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison. While in prison, Paey was treated with larger quantities of painkillers than he had been convicted of possessing.
Major news organizations quickly picked up Paey’s story and put pressure on the state of Florida. In 2007, Governer Charlie Crist agreed to hold a clemency hearing. The Florida Parole Commission, required to prepare a report for the hearing, recommended against commuting Paey’s sentence, but in September 2007, Governor Crist and the Florida cabinet voted unanimously to grant Paey a full pardon.
- Stephanie Denzel