A federal judge on Thursday reduced Whitewater figure Susan McDougal's sentence to time served and ordered her to 90 days home detention.
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"I am a much better person today than the one you sentenced," Mrs. McDougal said before tearful hugs with members of her family. "I promise you, you won't be sorry."
Mrs. McDougal was to be released immediately.
Howard said he hoped his decision would be an incentive for Mrs. McDougal to rehabilitate herself. She faces trial on embezzlement-related charges in California July 13 and is to be tried in Little Rock for criminal contempt on Sept. 28.
Earlier Thursday, a clinical neurologist testified that Mrs. McDougal needs careful medical assessment and treatment for seriously progressive curvature of the spine and related disk problems.
Dr. Ronald Fisk testified at a federal court hearing called to determine whether Mrs. McDougal's health problems are serious enough for a judge to release her from prison.
Mrs. McDougal contends that the time she has spent in prison has worsened a curvature of the spine she has had since birth.
Fisk, a clinical neurologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, testified that the curvature had worsened during her imprisonment, causing pressure on her spinal cord and herniated disks in her back.
"She needs to be referred to a world-class specialist," he said. "Surgery is a distinct medical possibility."
Mrs. McDougal was convicted as part of the Whitewater investigation in 1996 with then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and her former husband, Jim McDougal. She was convicted of four felony fraud counts involving an illegal loan from a federally backed lending company.
She didn't begin serving her two-year sentence until March, however. Before that, she served 18 months for civil contempt for refusing to answer questions before the Whitewater grand jury.
Written by James Jefferson
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