A former Virginia prisoner who won a landmark settlement of more than $500,000 in January for crippling injuries he suffered while in jail, received an unconditional pardon yesterday from Gov. John N. Dalton.

In a brief letter, which arrived at former inmate Henry Tucker's home in South Boston, Va. near the North Carolina Border, Dalton said he granted the pardon "in view of his (Tucker's) medical condition."

According to pretrial depositions, the 43-year-old Tucker was given massive doses of an antipsychotic drug by a state prison physician, became paralyzed, and later developed maggot-infested bedsores because he went untreated in a prison hospital.

The injuries were so severe that Tucker, who was serving a 40-year prison sentence for a 1964 conviction for breaking and entering with intent to rape, was forced to undergo a series of painful skin grafts and have both hips surgically removed. He now is confined to a wheelchair.

Rather than contest Tucker's case, state prison officials arranged an out-of-court settlement last January of $518,000, believed to be the largest sum ever awarded to a prisoner for mistreatment in an American jail. He was released on parole last March.

"I think it's really nice of the government to do a thing like that (the pardon)," said Tucker yesterday. "I'd been hoping for it and I'm going to write him back and say thank you."

Stephen Bricker of Richmond, one of the lawyers who handled the case for the Washington-based National Prison Project and the American Civil Liberties Union, called the pardon "simple justice."

"In a sense, it's a admission from the governor's office that what happened to Mr. Tucker should not have happened," said Bricker.

Dalton's office had no comment yesterday. In the past, state officials have refused to comment on the settlement, which was covered by insurance, or on conditions in the prison system that let to Tucker's mistreatment.

Tucker said he bought a $38,000 house in South Boston, his childhood home, with part of the $440,000 that was his share of the settlement. He lives there with his mother and a brother, and employs a full-time nurse.

"I like it a whole lot better than prison," he said. "There's no place like home.

"I try not to be bitter. What happened to me could have happened to anybody. It's something you never forget, but I'd like to try."