Sunday, January 24, 2016

Rick Wershe, Jr. has two kinds of luck: Bad and none at all

 Why are so many people in the criminal justice system afraid—scared to death—of holding a hearing with witnesses and documents, to determine once and for all whether Richard J. Wershe, Jr.—known as White Boy Rick in the media—is a menace to society who deserves to remain in prison until he dies? A federal court in Grand Rapids is among the official entities determined NOT to explore the facts.

If it weren’t for bad luck, Rick Wershe, Jr. wouldn’t have any luck at all.

He’s had another setback in court. This time it involves the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan—which covers Grand Rapids, Michigan and environs. This is not to be confused with his state case. Last August and September there was a flurry of media coverage of his original state drug case in Detroit. That issue is now before the Michigan Supreme Court awaiting a decision.

The Grand Rapids case is different. Wershe is the one doing the suing in a civil case. I’ll try to avoid lawyer-ese and explain it in normal people terms.

In 2012 Wershe’s attorney, Ralph Musilli, filed a federal civil lawsuit against the Michigan Parole Board. It accused the board of violating Wershe’s constitutional rights by repeatedly refusing to consider him for parole even though he’s eligible due to changes in Michigan’s drug laws. What used to be a mandatory life sentence for possession of large amounts of cocaine has been changed to parolable-life. That is, after a certain portion of the sentence is served, the inmate is eligible for parole at the discretion of the state parole board.

Originally Rick Wershe, Jr. was sentenced in 1988 to life in prison without parole for possession of 17 pounds of cocaine. As Informant America has explained in previous posts, Wershe had been recruited by the FBI at age 14 to become a confidential informant against the Curry Brothers, a rising cocaine organization on Detroit’s east side. They recruited a 14-year old because he was known and trusted by the Currys as one of the kids from the neighborhood. He did a good job informing on the Curry organization. He also told FBI agents on a federal drug task force about police drug corruption, too. That led to a lifetime of trouble for Wershe.

In the minds of many cops a drug trafficker is a lowlife cockroach but a police informer who tells on dirty cops who are on the take from drug dealers is even more contemptible. Frequently, but not always, the cops on the take are narcs, narcotics officers, plainclothes cowboys who are often held in high regard in police circles. In most cases at least some of their fellow cops know these guys are dirty. But in that line of work, you never, ever rat on your own. If you are an honest cop you are supposed to look the other way. The pressure in police departments to ignore corruption is enormous. Just ask Frank Serpico, a famous ex-New York City narc. There was a movie about him, starring Al Pacino, and it featured a tagline that was not only memorable but insightful in terms of American law enforcement really works:
“Many of his fellow officers considered him the most dangerous man alive. An honest cop.”

Frank Serpico: a dangerous cop...because he was honest. (Paramount movie poster)

Previous posts on Informant America have discussed the police corruption surrounding the Rick Wershe, Jr. case. There are strong reasons to believe Wershe remains in prison long after he was eligible for parole because there is an ongoing law enforcement/prosecution vendetta against him. The Michigan Parole Boards’ refusal year in and year out to give Wershe serious consideration for parole is the basis for suing them in federal court. It is a denial of his Constitutional rights, the lawsuit claims. The Wershe lawsuit argues it is a violation of his right to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and his right under the Eighth Amendment to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Court Judge Gordon Quist-Western District of Michigan

Initially, U.S. District judge Gordon Quist dismissed the case as frivolous litigation and 
threatened Ralph Musilli, Wershe’s attorney, with a fine.

Musilli appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court issued an opinion in August, 2014. They agreed the due process part of the case didn’t have merit but they remanded, or sent, the case back to Judge Quist telling him he made a mistake "...because the district court failed to consider the impact of Wershe’s youth at the time of the crime and his arrest." Wershe was 17 when he was arrested, 18 when he went to prison for life. The appeals court said Quist had not considered how a U.S. Supreme Court decision called Graham-v- Florida applied to the Wershe parole matter. That 2010 decision said juveniles convicted in non-homicide cases cannot be sentenced to life without parole. 

The case has been sitting on the docket in Grand Rapids since August, 2014 without any action on the Court of Appeals opinion and order.

Recently, a Grand Rapids federal magistrate, reviewing the case for Judge Quist, concluded the Supreme Court’s Graham decision does not apply to the Wershe case because the Michigan criminal drug law was changed to life with parole. This totally ignores the facts—or lack of them—in the Wershe case. Five times since 2003 the Michigan Parole Board has refused to consider Wershe for parole. As a former parole board member observed, they are perpetuating his life sentence five years at a time. The magistrate, on the other hand, focused solely on the change in Michigan law, which in his view, satisfies the requirements of the Graham decision by the Supreme Court.

The federal magistrate, Ray Kent, recommended the Wershe civil suit be terminated. What he has done is give Judge Quist “cover” for avoiding the issues in the Wershe matter. The judge can dismiss Wershe’s lawsuit and say something like, “I’m following the recommendations of a federal magistrate who has thoroughly reviewed the matter.”

Well, no, he didn’t. The magistrate did no such thing. A fair review would have recommended that Musilli be allowed what is called discovery. That’s a court-authorized fact-finding effort. Claims by the State of Michigan that there are no facts to be discovered are totally bogus. Full court-authorized discovery might lead to all sorts of stinky things, shenanigans at the Parole Board, witnesses who lied and misled the Board at Rick’s 2003 hearing, and possible evidence of a long-running conspiracy to deny Rick Wershe his rights as retribution for informing on public corruption, as this blog has been reporting on for months. So why is the federal court in Grand Rapids going out of its way to avoid fact-finding in the Wershe case?

“That’s like putting a stick of dynamite under a pile of manure,” Musilli says. Very true.

Magistrate Kent’s extremely narrow focus on parolable life versus non-parolable life ignores the essential argument in the Wershe lawsuit. The validity of the Wershe sentence is not the issue. The issue is the fairness of keeping a man in prison for 28 years for a non-violent drug crime committed as a juvenile, when every other Michigan inmate charged under similar circumstances has been paroled. That sure sounds like unusual punishment as described in the U.S. Constitution. They've released all of the Michigan juvenile drug offenders who were given life sentences except one—Rick  Wershe.

And there are outrageous circumstances in this case of a juvenile who was sentenced to life in prison. Wershe, then a teenager, got involved with drugs only after law enforcement (the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force—OCDETF—task force) taught him the drug trade so he could be a better confidential informant. Federal agents and local police narcs taught him how to be a dope dealer. Furthermore, certain law enforcement/prosecution parties have made a determined effort to mislead the parole board regarding this guy's level of activity in the drug trade. It can be argued this official smear was done to ensure he remained in prison as payback for snitching on corrupt cops and the brother-in-law of the late mayor of Detroit.

Factual misrepresentations to the parole board have kept this man in prison unfairly. He has a false, fabricated reputation (White Boy Rick) that is used as a reason for keeping him in prison until he dies. This is more about retribution, about the abuse of the criminal justice system, than about which case law applies.

The systemic vendetta against Wershe is amazing. Contract murderers—hitmen—have been incarcerated, done time, and have been paroled in the time Wershe has been in prison. The State of Michigan and Wayne County have gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid a full hearing on the question of whether this guy deserves to remain in prison long after others similarly charged have been paroled. They simply will not budge even in the face of challenges to the "evidence" presented in 2003.

It is a no-win situation for Wershe because, among other things, a commutation under Gov. Snyder is totally dependent upon the Parole Board that has steadfastly refused for years to grant him a new parole hearing. Snyder says he will rely on the Parole Board to "advise" him on a commutation for Wershe. So Snyder has tossed the matter back to an entity that is denying this guy his Constitutional rights. There is no way they will recommend a commutation. The practical result is Wershe has no rights. None. 

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