After more than a month in jail, Charles H. Keating Jr. won a bail reduction and headed home to prepare his defense against the first criminal charges in one of the nation's biggest savings and loan failures.

U.S. District Judge John G. Davies ruled Thursday that the $5 million bail set by a state judge for the 66-year-old former thrift operator was excessively high in the investment fraud case.Davies lowered bail to $300,000, and Keating's family posted it by pledging their houses as security. Keating was released Thursday night, smiling as he walked out of jail.

Davies had heard an impassioned plea by Los Angeles lawyer John "Jack" Quinn, who has defended Keating against a slew of civil charges stemming from the collapse of Lincoln Savings and Loan Association.

Reimbursing the thrift's federally insured deposits could cost taxpayers as much as $2 billion. It would be the nation's costliest thrift bailout.

Quinn said Keating had wrongly become "the most vilified man since Richard Nixon," but would never skip bail after his family put up their homes as security.

"I'll tell you what would have an impact on Charlie Keating - the thought of his children and grandchildren losing the places they live," Quinn said.

Keating was not in court. Several family members were.

The savings and loan chief with powerful political connections came to symbolize the excesses of the thrift industry with his investments in risky real estate ventures and junk bonds.

He controlled the Irvine-based Lincoln Savings through his American Continental Corp. in Phoenix, Ariz., drawing huge salaries and maintaining a lavish personal lifestyle.