White-collar defendants typically profess how sorry they are before they’re sentenced. Bernie Madoff admitted he’d left “a legacy of shame.” Still, he got 150 years.

But sometimes it does pay to be contrite. Stephen Richards, the former vice president of sales at Computer Associates International Inc., and his lawyers at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom succeeded on Thursday in getting his seven-year sentence reduced to the 44 months that he has served by, in part, admitting that he deserved his stint in prison.

Richards, along with former CA chief executive officer Sanjay Kumar, had been accused of backdating license agreements to accelerate the booking of revenue, which led to a $2.2 billion restatement. Richards pled guilty in 2006 to securities fraud, obstruction of justice and perjury, among other things. Brooklyn federal district court Judge Leo Glasser initially sentenced Richards to seven years and $29 million in restitution. In August, the 2nd Circuit vacated that prison sentence, holding that the judge had failed to give Richards credit under the sentencing guidelines for his “acceptance of responsibility.” In the same decision, the court upheld a 12-year sentence for Kumar, who also pleaded guilty. (It took the court nearly two years after oral arguments to issue this decision. The appeal was heard in September 2008.)

In this sentencing memo, the Skadden team, led by David Zornow and Chris Gunther, noted that under the 2nd Circuit’s ruling this year in United States v. Hernandez, the court may consider events since the first sentencing. They brought to the judge’s attention the fact that Richards suffered “a particularly traumatic period” when he was first incarcerated, as well as his good works in prison.

Because Richards is not a U.S. citizen (he is a New Zealander), he was not eligible to serve his time in the first prison camp where the government placed him. Before his transfer, officials moved him into a maximum security unit used mostly for disciplinary problems. Richards spent most of seven weeks in solitary confinement in that unit, where his mental condition deteriorated rapidly, according to the memo. Prison officials also altered his medication for bipolar disorder, which left him sedated and mentally impaired, the letter states.

“The extended period of restrictive confinement and the related need for additional medication contributed to a far harsher period of incarceration than faced by the typical first-time, non-violent offender designated to a minimum security prison camp environment,” the memo states. Skadden also stressed Richards’ involvement in a “Wheels for the World” program, in which inmates refurbish wheelchairs for people in need around the world, and his work developing an entrepreneurship program for inmates.

Richards sent a letter to Judge Glasser emphasizing his remorse. “I understand why I am here. I know I was deserving of punishment. … What I have learned through this process are many things I am deeply ashamed of. … This soul searching has served as a wake up call I so badly needed. … I firmly believe that this was an outcome I needed, and will result in a far better man for the future.”

Richards still won’t be free for a while, according to Skadden’s Zornow. As a convicted felon, he is subject to deportation, and will be moved to a deportation facility where his case will be heard by an administrative law judge. Still, Zornow is pleased with the result. “We’re just ecstatic that he will have an opportunity to be reunited with his family.” (Richards’ wife and four children live in Australia.) “We could not be more thrilled.”

This article first appeared on The Am Law Litigation Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.