Tuesday, February 14, 2017

SPECIAL UPDATE: Rick Wershe’s Parole Interview ‘Went Well’

Over 3,000 readers have checked out Sunday’s blog post about Rick Wershe’s pending parole interview. This blog is normally updated every other Sunday. It is foolish and perhaps frustrating to wait until Feb. 26th to report on what happened today - February 14th - at Wershe's parole interview. Here is a summary based on the impressions of Ralph Musilli, Wershe’s attorney, who sat in on the interview.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017 was a good day for a guy who hasn’t had many good days in the last 29 years.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. was interviewed for about 45 minutes by the chair of the Michigan Parole Board for a possible parole from his life sentence. He was sentenced at age 18 for an arrest when he was 17. It was a non-violent drug conviction but he was sent to prison for life under a draconian state law that has since been discarded. Every other Michigan prison inmate charged similarly as a juvenile drug offender under that law has had their case reviewed and most have been released from prison.

Rick Wershe, Jr. in court in Detroit in September, 2015 (Photo: Brian Kauffman, Detroit Free Press)

Wershe’s lawyers have been fighting in the federal courts against his continued imprisonment, arguing his civil rights have been violated because he’s been treated differently from every other state prison inmate similarly charged.

Those federal cases are heating up and the State of Michigan is on the hook to explain, in court, why they are treating Wershe in a different manner than all other inmates. The State of Michigan doesn’t have a good answer for that, thus Wershe’s consideration for parole has received priority interest by “the system.”

Wershe was interviewed first thing Tuesday morning via remote video conferencing hookup by Michael Eagen, chair of the Michigan Parole Board. Eagen was in Lansing. Wershe was at the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, where he is serving his prison term. There were several inmate interviews scheduled with Wershe's, but Eagen did only one of them; Richard Wershe's. Another member of the Parole Board handled all the others.

“It went very well,” Ralph Musilli, Wershe’s attorney, said. “He (Wershe) was very candid. He answered all his questions.”

Ralph Musilli-Rick Wershe's attorney. He sat in on Wershe's parole interview.

Eagen didn’t ask any trick questions. It was stuff that was expected. He asked Wershe about his arrest, what happened, how long he had been dealing drugs and how much money he made.

Rick Wershe has always admitted he did wrong. He’s always admitted he was wrong to try to become a big-time drug dealer. But the argument has been that Wershe has been treated unfairly.

He was recruited by the FBI at age 14 to become an informant against a politically-connected drug gang because he knew some of the leaders. Unlike many snitches who cooperate to get leniency on a drug bust, Wershe was taught the drug trade by members of Detroit’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). 

When Wershe got the evidence the Feds needed against the Johnnie Curry drug gang, the task force kicked Wershe to the curb, so to speak. They used him, then dumped him.

Cast adrift, with no parental supervision to speak of, Wershe turned to the only trade he knew; slinging dope. It was a bad decision and he’s paid for it by spending his entire life behind bars while cold-blooded hitmen who murdered numerous people in the drug trade have been arrested, tried, sentenced and released in the time Wershe has remained in prison for his non-violent drug offense. 

As the Informant America blog has documented over the past two years, Wershe’s real crime was that he informed on drug-related corruption in the Detroit/Wayne County criminal justice system. He told on the wrong people and they have waged a vendetta against him ever since. The corrupt Detroit/Wayne Criminal Justice system has never forgiven Wershe for telling the FBI the truth about them.

Wershe kept helping the Feds even after he went to prison. He helped launch an FBI undercover sting operation that resulted in the conviction of several police officers and the brother-in-law of then-Mayor Coleman Young of Detroit. Young and his brother-in-law, Willie Volsan, are both deceased.

As a result of his FBI cooperation, Wershe’s life was in danger so he was put in the federal Witness Security program, or WitSec, a special prison system for convicts who help make important criminal cases. 

While he was in WitSec in Florida, Wershe made another bad decision. He got wind of a used-car arrangement on the outside. Wershe figured it was a good way to help his mother and sister get a car. It turned out to be a scam and Wershe got busted and was charged. He pled guilty and was sentenced for a new crime and evicted from the WitSec program and returned to the Michigan prison system.

Eagen asked Wershe about this in the interview. Wershe explained what happened and Musilli interjected, noting the Florida prosecutor had threatened to prosecute Rick’s mother and sister if he tried to go to trial. Arguably, Wershe was coerced in to pleading guilty. His court-appointed Florida lawyer had no experience in criminal cases. He was there to fulfill a legal requirement for sentencing...and to collect a fee from the court.

Wershe's plea agreement in Florida (shown above in a redacted version) plainly states the prosecutor will NOT file charges against his mother and sister if he agrees to plead "on the nose" as charged to racketeering, which guaranteed he would get more prison time. As Wershe saw it, he didn't have much choice. He was already doing time and he didn't want his mother and sister charged and tried, so he agreed to the "deal." A lawyer with criminal case experience would have told him to reject the plea agreement because the State of Florida didn't really have a case against his mother and sister. It was a scare tactic and it worked. Most of the other defendants were charged with a minor offense and got probation. The Florida prosecutor admitted to a local newspaper reporter that Wershe was a "fringe" player in the scheme, yet he got a heavy sentence after Michigan officials intervened.

Moreover, Florida charged Wershe with racketeering when the rest of the co-conspirators were essentially charged with possession of stolen property. Most of the others in the case were given probation and restitution. Wershe was given a five-year sentence to be served consecutively with his life prison term in Michigan. 

In other words, if he gets paroled in Michigan, he may still have to do five years in a Florida prison. But Wershe and his lawyers are fighting one battle at a time.

In the Florida case, there are suspicions Michigan officials urged the Florida Attorney General’s office to “throw the book” at Wershe as part of the continuing vendetta against him for helping the FBI prosecute public corruption in Detroit and Wayne County. On its face, the case against Wershe in Florida is totally out of sync with all of the other defendants charged in that case.

The Florida Attorney General brought charges against Wershe in Martin County. Wershe had never been to Martin County, but it is known as perhaps the harshest criminal punishment court in the State of Florida. When Wershe was brought to Martin County for arraignment and he told the county jail matrons why he was there, they told him, “Honey, they brought you here to this county because they want to hang your ass.” They meant that figuratively, but the jail matrons were being straight with him about harsh justice being the norm in their county. The Florida case is another battle for another day. For now, the focus is on Michigan.

Eagen told Wershe he would make his report to the full Parole Board at their next meeting, the second Friday in March. That’s March 10th. If the full board votes to consider parole, notice will be sent to the Wayne County Prosecutor and Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Dana Hathaway, the judge who presides over Wershe’s drug conviction. The prosecutor and judge have 30 days to respond.

The next step would be 30-day notice of a public hearing followed by a public hearing, perhaps in early June. The Parole Board could decide at that session whether to grant parole to Richard J. Wershe, one of their most notorious inmates and a potential poster child for everything that's wrong with the War on Drugs.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A crucial week for Rick Wershe, Jr. in his struggle for freedom

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. is scheduled for an interview with the chair of the Michigan Parole Board on Tuesday. It is a milestone in his quest to win parole after 29 years in prison for a non-violent drug conviction. Wershe is believed to be the longest serving inmate convicted of a drug crime as a teenager.

Come Tuesday morning, Rick Wershe’s stomach is going to be in knots. It’s guaranteed. He is scheduled to be interviewed by Michael Eagen, the chair of the Michigan Parole Board as a key step toward a possible parole from his life prison sentence.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. -  Valentine's Day 2017 is a critical day in his life. (Photo: David Coates-Detroit News)

Wershe is one of the most controversial inmates in the Michigan Corrections system. He is a political prisoner and everyone knows it. It’s political because the Detroit/Wayne County political machine has done everything in its power to keep him imprisoned for telling the FBI about drug corruption among the politically-connected. The Informant America blog has documented this vendetta in considerable detail over the last two years.

The “system” is doing its best to make this parole evaluation process for Wershe appear to be business-as-usual. It’s anything but business as usual.

Wershe was due for parole consideration next December. That changed when his lawyers filed a second federal court action—a habeas corpus motion. It requires the State of Michigan to explain to a judge why this inmate has not been given a meaningful and fair chance for parole, when virtually everyone else in Michigan similarly tried and convicted has had their sentence reduced and most have been released from custody.

Less than a week after the habeas corpus (“you have the body” in Latin) motion was filed, the Michigan Parole Board announced they were moving up Wershe’s parole consideration by well over half a year.

Over the holidays Wershe watched in amazement as staffers in the Michigan Department of Corrections processed paperwork associated with his possible parole—a task they ordinarily would postpone until after the Christmas/New Year’s break.

The Parole Board announced one of its members—Sonia Amos-Warchok—would interview Wershe in behalf of the entire board in mid-February. This is a routine part of the process. One board member normally conducts a full interview with an inmate and reports back to the rest of the board.

What wasn’t routine in this case is that shortly after the first of the year, Michael Eagen, the head of the Parole Board, announced he was going to do the interview personally, instead of Amos-Warchok. There was no explanation of why the chair of the Parole Board decided to handle the Wershe interview himself.

But we know the clock is ticking on the habeas corpus motion, in which the onus is on the State of Michigan to come to court with compelling and convincing evidence why they have NOT given Wershe a fair shot at parole.

And there’s this: Wershe has another federal lawsuit in the hopper, one that was filed several years ago, claiming his civil rights have been violated. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars cruel and unusual punishment. The fact Wershe has been denied parole when everyone else in Michigan similarly charged, convicted and incarcerated has been given that opportunity is unusual punishment. He’s been treated differently than every other prisoner. There’s a strong argument to be made that that is unusual punishment.

Interestingly, that case is now bubbling in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The federal judge on that case, Gordon Quist of Grand Rapids, has sat on Wershe’s civil rights case after initially trying to dismiss it. The Court of Appeals essentially told Quist, not so fast. Do some inquiry. But judges hate to be told what to do by appellate courts. Quist got a magistrate in his courthouse to conclude he’s right in doing nothing. The Court of Appeals disagrees. The case is moving forward—at the appeals court level.

The end result is that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered oral arguments in the Wershe case in Cincinnati in mid-March. This seldom happens in such cases in modern times. Oral arguments is a misleading term. It’s more of a session where a three-judge panel gets to ask questions of attorneys on both sides. It’s another courtroom where some barrister from the Michigan Attorney General’s office is going to have to answer some hard questions. Questions such as, what the hell are you people doing to this guy? And why?

It all boils down to the State of Michigan moving as quickly as possible on the Rick Wershe case in the face of some potentially unpleasant courtroom encounters, while striving to make it look like business-as-usual.

As for Tuesday’s interview, it won’t be face to face. It will be conducted via video conferencing hookup. Eagen will be in a conference room at the Department of Corrections in Lansing while Rick will remain at the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, where he is imprisoned. Wershe is allowed to have one “friend” or associate with him. That’s going to be Ralph Musilli, his longtime attorney.

Musilli will not be allowed to talk or argue Wershe’s case. This is not that kind of session. Eagen will question Wershe one-to-one over the video link. He will want to know if Wershe has been “rehabilitated” and if he has people on the outside who will help him transition back in to mainstream society.

The essential question the Parole Board wants answered is this: Is Richard J. Wershe, Jr. a good “risk” for parole? Can he be released as a free man without any more run-ins with the law? Here’s a clue: he only has this one conviction. He is not a “repeat offender.”

Wershe should pass this test with flying colors. The staff at the Oaks Correctional Facility say Wershe would qualify as a “model prisoner” if there were such a thing. He is well-liked by the staff at the prison. He’s not a trouble-maker. Never has been.

If Eagen likes what he hears, he will report back to the full board at their next meeting and they will vote on whether to consider Rick Wershe for parole. If the answer is “yes” they will notify the Wayne County Prosecutor and Wershe’s drug-case judge that he is up for parole. If the prosecutor and judge don’t object, there will be a public hearing. In the cases of some violent convicts, victims sometimes show up at a public hearing to plead for denial of parole. In this case, an impressive number of people are ready to testify in Wershe’s behalf if there is a public hearing.

After 29 years in prison for a non-violent drug conviction handed down when he was a teenager, Rick Wershe may be granted parole sometime this spring.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

More good news for Rick—this time it’s about his civil rights lawsuit

For four long years, Rick Wershe, Jr.’s lawyer has been battling for his civil rights against cruel and unusual punishment in a slow-moving lawsuit before a Grand Rapids federal judge. The judge threw the case out, but attorney Ralph Musilli appealed to the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals and they essentially told the Grand Rapids judge, not so fast. This past week the appeals court advanced the case by scheduling it for oral arguments next month.

In the painfully slow game that is Rick Wershe’s fight for his civil rights, last week the Wershe team made a gain of 20 yards. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has signaled, through its orders, that it is curious about what the hell the State of Michigan is doing to Prisoner # 192034, otherwise known as Richard J. Wershe, Jr.

In addition, there's been another development in Rick's favor regarding the Michigan Parole Board. Consider that another five-yard gain. More on that in a moment.

Under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, all of us are entitled to a right against cruel and unusual punishment. This means, among other things, that among prison inmates, everyone must be treated equally. To do otherwise is unusual, and therefore, cruel punishment.

The appeals court appears to be curious enough about how Wershe has been treated to schedule oral arguments. In truth, it’s more of a question-and-answer session where a three-judge panel considering the case asks questions of the lawyers for both sides. The barristers have already submitted voluminous written arguments including a mind-numbing recitation of case law that only a judge could love.

Oral arguments in the appeals courts are also unusual these days. “In 2011, only one quarter of all federal appeals were orally argued, down from nearly two-thirds in the early 1980s, and the time allotted in most circuits was limited to fifteen minutes or less,” according to an article in The Journal of Appellate Practice and Process. (If you’re wondering where the hell I come up with this stuff, well, I sometimes wonder myself.) The law journal calls it an “extraordinary reduction in oral argument” in the name of “procedural efficiency.”

To put this in people-speak, these days it’s unusual for an appellate court to order oral arguments, but they have in the Wershe case.

I spoke with Rick by phone from prison after the order was given for oral arguments in his rights case and asked for his reaction.  He told me, “cautiously optimistic is a good way to put it.” As I noted in another blog post, Wershe has had the rug pulled out from under him so many times, he’s learned to temper any happiness he may feel about such things.

Ralph Musilli, Wershe’s attorney, has been waging this battle for a long time. 

Ralph Musilli, Rick Wershe's attorney

When Musilli says “they” he means the State of Michigan, the Michigan Parole Board, prosecutors; everyone opposed to Rick Wershe’s parole. I’m going to let Musilli explain, in his own words (questions, to be precise), what’s going on:

“How are they going to argue that Richard Wershe, Jr. has been treated fairly by this parole board?”

“What’s the excuse for him still being there?

“How do they justify not giving this guy a parole hearing since 2003?

“Twenty-nine years and five-year flops. What is that?” (Wershe gets “considered” for parole every five years. If the Parole Board votes “no interest” there’s no parole hearing. The inmate gets “flopped” for another five years. It’s a way of implementing a life sentence five years at a time.)

“How do they get around the fact that every other juvenile 
sentenced under that statute has been out of prison for over a decade?”

“How are they going to argue that Richard Wershe, Jr. has been fairly by this parole board?”

“How many people in Wayne County, who have been convicted on violent offenses, have been released on parole since 2003? It’s thousands of them. And those people are all out on the street. And here you have a non-violent criminal who’s been in for 29 years. How do you reconcile that with fairness and how do you get around cruel and unusual punishment?

“What we are saying is, obviously, he has been treated differently than anybody else in his position (in the Michigan prison system). They’ve been emptying the prisons out. 
They’ve been closing prisons here in Michigan.”

Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball

As Cuban-born Desi Arnaz used to frequently say to Lucille Ball on their 1950s TV comedy show, “Alright, start ‘splainin’.”
In this instance, the State of Michigan has some “splainin’” to do to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In mid-December the Wershe defense team filed a new pleading in Detroit federal court for a writ of habeas corpus. That means the State of Michigan must appear before a federal judge and explain why they are keeping Wershe in prison in light of prevailing case law indicating he should be released on parole. The State, represented by the State Attorney General, has until June to come up with an answer. This is in addition to the civil rights lawsuit being considered by the Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. The motion for a writ of habeas corpus apparently was one legal battle too many for the State of Michigan over this lone prisoner.

Less than a week later, the Michigan Parole Board announced they were moving up Wershe's next scheduled parole review by nearly a year. Wershe was amazed as the "system" started working on the process in earnest over the Christmas holidays. In his 29 years in prison he says he's never seen them move this fast on a parole.

The next step is for a designated member of the Parole Board to formally interview Wershe face to face to determine if he's fit for parole. Eric Smith, the number two guy at Oaks Correctional Facility, where Wershe is serving his time, has said Rick Wershe is as close to being a model prisoner as possible.

Now we learn the chairperson of the Parole Board himself, Michael Eagen, is going to personally participate with member Sonia Amos-Warchock in Wershe's mid-February interview. Now THAT is an interesting development.

“It’s really getting interesting," Musilli says in, what is for him, a rare moment of understatement. 

"Now, all of a sudden, the heat is on and they can’t hide anymore.”

Simply put: the Michigan Parole Board now has two, count 'em-TWO, federal courts demanding answers regarding inmate Richard J. Wershe, Jr.

Attorney Ralph Musilli again:

“You have to give them a reasonable expectation of release. You cannot lock up a juvenile and throw the key away.”

“We challenged the Parole Board on the statute. It says if you are going to deny him parole you have to give him reasons for the denial and you have to give him bullet points, item by item, on what he has to do to make himself eligible. Their response to me was: if we never give him a hearing we never have to give him a reason. How cute is that?”

We will find out on March 16th.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

Rick Wershe, Jr. is Waiting—and Hoping—for Freedom

Next month will mark the 29th year that Richard J. Wershe, Jr., known in the media as White Boy Rick, has been in prison for a non-violent drug offense. The Michigan Parole Board, at long last, seems interested in granting him parole.

Rick Wershe, Jr., about age 12 in this snapshot, had no way of knowing that a few years later he would be a paid secret informant for the FBI in an adventure that would put him in prison the rest of his life. (Photo courtesy of Dave Majkowski.)

The waiting must be hard. The not knowing must be harder. After years of waiting, after years of disappointment, things are moving. Rick Wershe’s life prison sentence may be coming to an end. Next month he has a critical, formal interview with a member of the Michigan Parole Board. 

If that goes well, if Rick appears ready to return to society, the Parole board member will report to the full board, which will then vote whether to consider Rick Wershe for parole. A public hearing is mandatory, but the Parole Board could decide no testimony is necessary, that they’ve decided to finally grant Wershe parole. A 29-year ordeal could be over in a matter of minutes.

Between now and the middle of February, Rick Wershe is left to sit in a cell the size of an oversized home bathroom or walk around in the prison exercise yard or watch TV and try to keep his mind off the clock and the calendar. The waiting must be hard. The not knowing must be harder.

I spoke with Rick over the Christmas holidays. Frankly, I think he’s afraid to hope. Wershe is not the kind of guy to be afraid of much of anything or anybody, but this is different. He’s been disappointed so many times. He’s afraid to get his hopes up. Wershe has developed a bit of a protective emotional shell over the years. He secretly hopes for the best but his public face says he’s prepared for the worst, which is more of the same. It’s the only way to keep his sanity. It’s the only way to avoid sinking in to the depths of despair. He’s good at bracing himself for bad news. Life in prison has done that to him. Still. This time, things seem different.

For those new to the Rick Wershe saga, here’s the semi-succinct back story:

Wershe was a 14-year old Detroit white kid living in a racially mixed neighborhood when the FBI came calling, wanting him to become a paid informant against some guys he knew; a black family named Curry. They were rising stars in Detroit’s cocaine scene. And they had political connections. Leader Johnnie Curry was married to Cathy Volsan, the niece of Detroit Mayor Coleman Young. That automatically gave Johnnie Curry real juice, which included receiving police narcotics intelligence reports from politically ambitious cops. Wershe knew the Currys through the youngest Curry brother, Rudell "Boo" Curry. The Currys trusted him.

Rick Wershe, by all accounts, did a good job for a joint federal/local narcotics task force. He also found out about corruption in the top ranks of the police department. He told the FBI about that, too. He learned Johnnie Curry had paid Gil Hill, the head of Detroit Police Homicide, to make a murder investigation go away. the victim was an innocent 13-year old boy, shot to death accidentally by members of the Curry gang.

When the FBI got the evidence they needed to indict and convict the Curry gang, the feds abandoned Wershe, their confidential informant, cold. A school dropout with no family to turn to, young Rick Wershe decided he, too, would become a dope dealer, a wholesaler. It was, of course, a bad decision. 

The Detroit police found out quickly and busted him. Gullible reporters who depend on leaks and tips from the cops for their news stories, had a field day smearing Rick Wershe as White Boy Rick, the white teen boss of Detroit’s cocaine underworld. They never stopped to ask how a white kid, arrested before he was 18, a kid who couldn’t grow a decent moustache, could give orders to prison-hardened, sometimes murderous, adult black dope dealers. Under a harsh Michigan law that has since been repealed, Rick Wershe was sentenced at age 18 to life in prison for a non-violent drug crime. He’s been there to this day.

Along the way, he continued helping the FBI—from prison. He disrupted two murder plots but he also helped set up an undercover sting of corrupt cops, including Gil Hill who by this time was a politically powerful city council member. Nearly a dozen cops were indicted but Hill escaped arrest, narrowly. He now knew, however, that Rick Wershe had been telling on him for years. Hill didn’t get mad. He got even.

When Wershe finally came up for a parole hearing, Hill and his cronies stacked the deck with police witnesses, some of whom misled the board, and some presented false and misleading “confidential” informant reports. Yet three FBI agents testified in favor of Wershe’s release.

The Parole Board, apparently mindful of Wershe’s media reputation as White Boy Rick, the drug kingpin and drug lord and menace to society, turned him down for parole. Gill Hill the apparent organizer of a law enforcement vendetta against Rick Wershe, died last year.

Now the Parole Board is back and considering parole for Rick Wershe. This time may be different.

Over the years Wershe’s attorneys have been battling for his release on the basis of civil rights violations. It is Constitutionally prohibited cruel and unusual punishment to treat one prisoner differently from all other prisoners incarcerated for the same offense.

Michigan has granted reduced sentences and paroles to well over a hundred inmates who, like Wershe, were sentenced to long prison terms as juveniles for non-violent drug crimes. Everyone fitting this case description has had a second chance. Everyone except Rick Wershe.

This is an aerial photo of Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, Michigan where Rick Wershe is housed as Inmate # 193024. (Photo: InmateAid)

In December, Wershe’s attorneys filed a motion for a writ of habeas corpus in Detroit federal court. They already have a civil rights lawsuit for Wershe in play in Grand Rapids federal court, but it's moving slowly. The December legal move compels the State of Michigan, through the Attorney General’s office, to show the court why Wershe should remain in prison while the state is releasing a long list of others who were jailed on similar charges. They have until June to respond formally and in detail.

It appears to be one court battle too many for the State of Michigan. Less than a week after the habeas corpus filing, the Parole Board announced they were moving up Wershe’s next scheduled consideration for parole from next December to this spring. If they grant him parole in, say, April, the habeas corpus case goes away. The civil rights lawsuit goes away. The increasing media questions about why they are treating Wershe differently than every other drug lifer will go away. Those are good reasons to think this time may be different. Rick Wershe sure hopes so.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 may be Rick Wershe’s Year for Parole. There is a Way You Can Help

Rick Wershe’s 2016 holidays had to be the best he’s had in a long time. He got word the Michigan Parole Board is accelerating the timetable for consideration of parole for him. This is his 29th year in prison. He was due for routine consideration in December. That’s been moved up to February. He told me he’s amazed at how fast things are moving. Here’s what’s happening and how you might be able to help.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. has been a political prisoner in Michigan for a very long time. Twenty-eight years so far and he’s entering the 29th.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. 2017 may be his year. (Photo: David Coates, Detroit News)

For those new to the story, here’s a recap: Rick was recruited by the FBI to become a drug informant at the tender age of 14 because he knew and was trusted by a politically-connected drug dealing family on Detroit’s east side. He helped the feds get indictments, and more. He told them about the possible corruption of Detroit Police Inspector Gil Hill, now deceased, who was the head of the Homicide unit and a local celebrity thanks to a small part in the Eddie Murphy movie Beverly Hills Cop. When the feds got what they needed for the drug case, they dropped Wershe as a paid informant.

He was then a school dropout with nowhere to turn, no family to back him up and no viable trade. So, he turned to the trade the police taught him. He started slinging dope and tried, unsuccessfully, to become a big-time drug wholesaler. He got caught by the Detroit Police and a pair of DEA agents and he was sentenced to life in prison. No one came to his aid for a variety of unsavory reasons that make law enforcement look like less than the good guys. He is believed to be Michigan’s longest-serving juvenile offender convicted for a non-violent crime.

The FBI and U.S. Justice Department never made a case against Gil Hill, although they certainly tried and he knew it. Convicted and admitted drug dealer Johnnie Curry eventually told the FBI he paid Gil Hill $10,000 to make a murder investigation go away. It involved the inadvertent murder of a 13-year old Detroit boy by members of the Current drug gang. Curry admitted this to FBI agents not once, but twice.

The late Gil Hill. Admitted and convicted drug dealer Johnnie Curry told FBI agents he paid Hill $10,000 to thwart a murder investigation linked to the Curry drug gang.  

Even so, neither the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office nor the U.S. Justice Department charged Hill with obstruction of justice or the violation of the civil rights of murder victim Damion Lucas. No one in the criminal “justice” system wanted to bring charges against a black celebrity, especially a black police celebrity, in a city like Detroit. 

Rick Wershe was a nobody. An expendable throwaway. He didn’t have Gil Hill’s political clout. Wershe was thrown to the wolves and Hill made sure the wolves kept after him with a life prison sentence that’s been doled out five years at a time. Hill died last year.

Wershe’s attorneys have been trying for years to get him out of prison. Real drug kingpins have been charged, tried, convicted, sentenced, imprisoned and released in the time Rick Wershe, the FBI-recruited informant, has been behind bars. As defense attorney Ralph Musilli puts it, Wershe told on the wrong people and he cost them a lot of money. The Detroit/Wayne County so-called criminal justice system has carried out a vendetta against Wershe in behalf of their drug-corrupted pals ever since. As retired FBI agent Gregg Schwarz put it: “Detroit has been and continues to be the gold standard for public corruption in the United States. Mayors, city officials, judges, police, it’s all there.”

Little wonder, then, that some in the Detroit Police, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and more than a few local and state appellate judges are in the pocket of bribe-paying or politically-connected gangsters and perfectly willing to keep Rick Wershe, Jr. in prison for natural life, if possible if that's what their corrupt pals want.

Wershe has two federal civil rights lawsuits in play over his unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. The gist of his argument is he has been treated differently than everyone else in the Michigan prison system. He is the only known non-violent drug offender convicted as a juvenile who is still in prison. All the others have been re-sentenced and released.

Last month Wershe’s lawyers filed what is known as a motion for a writ of habeas corpus in Detroit federal court. This legal maneuver is intended to force prosecutors, police and prison administrators to demonstrate to a judge why they are holding a prisoner when there is reason to question whether he is being held unreasonably and in violation of his Constitutional rights.

The motion for a writ of habeas corpus appears to be one court fight too many for the State of Michigan in regard to Rick Wershe. The Michigan Attorney General, by law, represents the Michigan Department of Corrections when it is sued, as it has been in the habeas corpus case. The Attorney General’s office already represents the Department of Corrections in a pending civil rights case Wershe has filed in federal court in Grand Rapids, which has jurisdiction over the prison where he is incarcerated.

The Grand Rapids case appears stalled because the assigned judge doesn’t want to be bothered with a prisoner rights’ case. The habeas corpus motion is a horse of a different color. It forces the State of Michigan to convince a federal judge that they are holding Wershe properly. It requires an open court airing of the facts of the Wershe case. 

That’s something the “system” wants to avoid at all costs because Wershe’s reputation as a drug “kingpin” and “drug lord” is a police/prosecution fabrication aided and abetted by a gullible, headline-hungry news media that has never investigated the basis for the legend of White Boy Rick, Wershe’s media nickname.

Less than a week after the filing of the motion for a writ of habeas corpus, the Michigan Parole Board announced it was going to review the Wershe case for possible parole. He was due for a routine parole review in 2017, but not until December. All of sudden, the Parole Board has moved up the timetable—significantly.

I spoke with Rick last week and he said the Corrections Department had just completed his PER—Parole Eligibility Report. He was amazed at how fast things are moving now. Wershe says he’s never seen the system move so fast on a parole case, and he’s been watching the system from the inside for 28 years.

Here’s what happens next:

Sonia Amos-Warchock, a member of the 10-member Michigan Parole Board, will interview Wershe on February 13th. This will be a formal session. Rick’s lawyer, Ralph Musilli, will be present, along with a pair of parole consultants helping Rick navigate the process.

After the interview, Ms. Amos-Warchock will prepare a report she will share with the rest of the Parole Board. The board will then vote whether to consider Rick Wershe for parole. If a majority votes “Yes”, this will trigger a notice of a formal public hearing. The hearing notice must be posted twice, thirty days apart, by law. In a “lifer” case a public hearing is mandatory. The hearing might be an opportunity to finally air the dirty laundry of the Richard Wershe, Jr. case, with witnesses and exhibits.

Or it could be very, very brief. The Board could open the hearing, announce they have reviewed his case, and they have voted to parole Rick Wershe. Done. Fini. It could be all over in a matter of minutes.

This is where you could help. No matter what happens with the public hearing, it will be quite helpful if Rick Wershe’s many supporters show up; a show of public support that the Parole Board cannot ignore. Fill the joint to standing-room-only. Let the Board know there are plenty of people who think this guy deserves a second chance. 

We don’t know the location, date or time yet, but there will be plenty of advanced notice. The best guess is the Parole Board wants to grant a parole and get the Wershe case out of the system no later than the end of May. They are due in Detroit federal court in June to present their case against Wershe and it’s logical to think they want this case behind them before June shows up on the calendar.

Over time many people have asked what they can do to help Rick Wershe. Taking the time to stand up—literally—for Wershe at his long-sought parole hearing would be a powerful way to help him end this nightmarish, life-sapping ordeal.

If things go Rick Wershe’s way, if he finally gets some justice, it may happen in the spring of 2017.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

New Pressure on the Criminal Justice System to Free Rick Wershe

Rick Wershe’s lawyers have filed a new court motion, in federal court, aimed at forcing consideration of parole for him. Wershe is the longest serving Michigan inmate doing a life sentence for a non-violent drug crime committed when he was a juvenile. The lawyer who filed the motion is the son of a Detroit legal legend.

UPDATE: On Monday, December 19th, the Michigan Parole Board notified Rick Wershe they intend to interview him in February for possible parole. It is the first step in the formal process for granting parole. It comes less than a week after the filing of the motion for habeas corpus described below. For Rick Wershe, it's the best news he's received since his parole hearing in 2003. It is certain to brighten his Christmas.

As Rick Wershe prepares for his 29th year in prison next year, his lawyers are still fighting the fight, battling every way possible to force the criminal justice system to dispense justice in his case. Drug dealers who were ten times bigger on the dope scene have been tried, convicted, imprisoned and paroled in the time Wershe has been behind bars. Cold-blooded hitmen have gone to prison and have been released in the time Wershe has been locked up. Rick Wershe’s real crime was that he was an FBI informant who helped the feds put politically connected dopers and politically connected corrupt cops in prison. There has been a long-running vendetta against Rick Wershe—28 years so far—by some politically powerful people in Detroit and the so-called criminal “justice” system has knuckled under. When a Wayne County Circuit Court judge tried to re-sentence Wershe to time served, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who owes her political career to the corrupt Detroit/Wayne County political machine, fought all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court to keep Wershe in prison.

Several hundred Michigan prison inmates, sentenced as juveniles to life in prison for murder, have been re-sentenced under a Michigan Supreme Court ruling called the Lockridge case. Rick Wershe was never convicted of a violent crime or charged with one. Yet, he remains in prison serving a life term. He was sentenced under a draconian state drug law that was repealed years ago. The fact he remains in prison under a discarded law and has been refused meaningful consideration for parole is cruel and unusual punishment as defined by the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution because he is being treated differently than everyone else serving life sentences as juvenile offenders in Michigan. Moreover, the Michigan Parole Board has repeatedly refused to consider Rick Wershe for parole and they refuse to give a reason. They don’t have to unless a judge forces them to do it because in Michigan they are accountable to no one and Michigan’s voters haven’t seen fit to demand a change in this enormous power that is subject to abuse.

Enter attorney Paul Louisell who has filed a writ of habeas corpus motion in behalf of Wershe in Detroit federal court. Louisell is a member of the Musilli, Brennan law firm. Ralph Musilli is Rick Wershe’s long serving tenacious lawyer, fighting on multiple issues in multiple courts to try to secure his client’s freedom. He’s been working for years pro bono, a Latin term which means he’s working for free on Wershe's case. So is Paul Louisell. Louisell worked for a time in the appellate section of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office. He has experience with appeals matters and this habeas corpus motion falls in that category. His father, the late Joe Louisell, was a true legend in Detroit courts in the 50s and 60s. More on that later.

First, let’s consider what the hell habeas corpus means. It’s another Latin term meaning “you have the body.” In law, it’s used to force authorities to produce a body—in this case Rick Wershe’s body—which they may be holding illegally. In laymen’s terms the habeas corpus motion is intended for force the powers-that-be to explain why they are holding Wershe in the face of what appears to be violations of several of his Constitutional rights.

As they say in those cheesy late-night TV commercials, “But wait! There’s more!”

The habeas corpus motion filing was assigned to U.S. District Judge George Steeh. Amazingly, his court ordered the Michigan Attorney General’s Office to file a legal response. The AG’s office represents the Parole Board in legal matters. This is getting to first base with this motion, something that is very, very difficult these days.

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts have taken a tough stand on habeas corpus and other defendant/inmate rights. Last year the Michigan Law Journal, a publication of the University of Michigan School of Law, published a piece with a wordy and cumbersome title: The Demise of Habeas Corpus and the Rise of Qualified Immunity: The Court’s Ever Increasing Limitations on the Development and Enforcement of Constitutional Rights and Some Particularly Unfortunate Consequences.

I know. It makes you want to rush to find it on Google and read every word. But the title tells you what you need to know; habeas corpus, a defendant or inmate’s right to challenge illegal or improper incarceration, is under assault by numerous court rulings. As a practical matter, judges are reluctant these days to even consider habeas corpus cases because there is so much case law now stacked against this legal tool. That’s why Judge Steeh’s willingness to even consider Louisell’s motion is noteworthy.

“Wershe is not being treated like other juveniles now being re-sentenced (in Michigan) under Lockridge,” Louisell says. The Lockridge ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court orders that juvenile lifers in murder cases be given a “second look” by the sentencing judge because of the defendant’s age at the time of sentencing. That hasn’t happened in the Wershe case and he’s the ONLY Michigan juvenile lifer who has been denied consideration under the Lockridge ruling.

“If he were sentenced today, he’d probably get five to seven years or at most 15 to 17 years,” Louisell says.

Attorney Paul Louisell. A framed newspaper article about his famous late father is over his shoulder.

In his office, over his shoulder, there is a framed copy of a newspaper article about the late great Joe Louisell, Paul’s father. In a lengthy profile story The Detroit Free Press once called Joe Louisell “Detroit’s Perry Mason,” a lawyer with an astonishing knack for winning seemingly unwinnable cases.

In 1995 the Detroit Legal News honored Joe Louisell posthumously as a “Legal Legend.” Joe Louisell’s father, Medor Louisell, was a prominent trial lawyer in Minnesota and later, in 1908, he was a member of the Michigan Constitutional Convention.

Joe Louisell got legendary Detroit Lions quarterback Bobby Layne out of a drunk driving case by arguing the arresting police officers may have mistaken Layne’s thick, slow Texas drawl for drunkenness. Layne had stopped his car six feet from the curb when the police stopped him and a car load of companions. But Joe Louisell’s novel defense argument about the way the championship football star’s drawl could be mistaken for drunkenness won the day.

The late Joe Louisell, described as Detroit's Perry Mason. (Photo: Detroit Free Press)

Regarded for many years as Detroit’s premier criminal defense attorney, Louisell won acquittals in several seemingly hopeless murder trials.

Joe Louisell also successfully defended some of Detroit’s top Mafia figures of the era. “I’ve never been ashamed of my clients,” Louisell once told reporters. “I’ve always felt I defended causes, not people.”

What would Joe Louisell think of the Rick Wershe case?

“He’d be incensed about the whole parole process,” his son Paul believes. “He’d be right there with Ralph (Musilli) arguing before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that Rick has never been given an opportunity for parole.”

Maybe, just maybe, with Paul Louisell’s motion for a writ of habeas corpus and Ralph Musilli’s civil rights fight for Wershe in the federal courts, Rick Wershe may at long last get justice in 2017.

I work hard to keep the facts straight in the complex and twisted tale of Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe, Jr. But sometimes things are misstated and it’s important to make corrections.

The blog of November 20, 2016 stated in part: “…he embarrassed Coleman Young by having an affair with the mayor’s niece while he was secretly working for the FBI.”

This is incorrect. Rick Wershe had stopped working for the FBI before he began his affair with Cathy Volsan Curry. He did indeed work as a confidential informant for the FBI, he did indeed have an affair with Cathy Volsan Curry, the mayor’s niece, and he embarrassed the mayor by living with her. But his FBI work and his fling with Ms. Volsan-Curry did not intersect.