Sunday, March 12, 2017

For Rick Wershe, the Waiting Has to be Hard

For Rick Wershe, these have to be hard days. There is genuine cause for optimism that his lifelong prison nightmare may have an end in sight. But to the “corrections” system he is still nothing more than No. 192034. He is reminded of it every day.

The Michigan Parole Board met Friday and considered the possibility of parole for some state prison inmates. One of them was Richard, J. Wershe, Jr., known in countless media reports over the years as White Boy Rick. We think they made a decision, but it hasn’t been announced. The Parole Board observes bureaucratic protocols and notifies each of the inmates who was up for parole consideration at this month’s board meeting, and apparently, it’s going to be up to Wershe to let his lawyer, family, friends and many supporters know what the Parole Board decided. Rick was told last week that they would tell him when they feel like it. We don’t know if that’s the Parole Board’s attitude or the interpretation of some hard-ass prison guard. All we know is the waiting game continues.

If the Parole Board votes to consider Wershe for parole, the next step will be a notice of a public hearing where witnesses get to testify whether he should or shouldn't be granted parole. A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections has stated this is likely to occur in early June, which happens to be just days before an important court date in Wershe's battle for parole.

Rick Wershe with some of the art work he has done while in prison.

After 29 years in prison for a non-violent drug offense, Rick Wershe’s case is suddenly on the fast track, at least in state prison terms.

His lawyers have been fighting the State of Michigan in a lawsuit in federal court, claiming Michigan has violated his civil rights by treating him differently than every other prisoner similarly charged, convicted and incarcerated. That battle has been dragging on for several years and it was due on the radar again on March 16th in Cincinnati, Ohio before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. But that court appearance has been postponed.

Wershe’s lawyer, Ralph Musilli, and a lawyer from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, representing the Michigan Parole Board, were to appear before a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals and participate in what are known as oral arguments. It’s more about questions-and-answers than arguments. Both sides have submitted detailed written arguments about prevailing case law and if this now-postponed session goes forward the judges will ask a lot of questions.The Court of Appeals took note of the Parole Board's movement on Wershe's possible parole and contacted the lawyers and asked if it makes sense to "hold in abeyance" the oral arguments. All parties agreed that makes sense.

The case started in federal court in Grand Rapids because Wershe is in prison on the western side of the state and the Grand Rapids federal court covers that territory.

The rights lawsuit argues it is a violation of the Eight Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment to make every prisoner charged with a nonviolent drug crime as a juvenile eligible for parole except Richard Wershe. That’s treating him differently than everyone else and that is unusual punishment.

The judge on the case has balked at hearing Wershe’s case from day one. Many judges dislike hearing prisoner rights cases, and Grand Rapids U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist is apparently one of them. If the appellate court decides the Wershe argument has merit, they can turn the heat up on the Grand Rapids case.

In December, however, Wershe’s lawyers added fuel to the legal fire. Attorney Paul Louisell, one of Musilli’s partners, filed a motion for a writ of habeas corpus with the federal court in Detroit. U.S. District Judge George Steeh agreed to consider the case, a remarkable decision in light of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that make it difficult to prevail in a habeas corpus (Latin for “you have the body) action. This motion is scheduled to be discussed in court in mid-June.

Ralph Musilli and Paul Louisell, Rick Wershe's attorneys

The onus is now on the State of Michigan to explain why Wershe hasn’t been afforded a meaningful opportunity for parole. His only real parole consideration was in 2003 and that was a kangaroo court sham hearing that appeared rigged to ensure Wershe remained in prison. False and conflicting testimony was not questioned or challenged by the Michigan Parole Board in 2003. Wershe has been up for parole consideration roughly every five years but they keep “flopping” him with a terse “no interest” response to the issue of releasing Wershe. As Musilli puts it, they’ve been extending Wershe’s life sentence five years at a time.

Less than a week after the filing of the habeas corpus motion in mid-December, the Parole Board announced it was moving up Wershe’s next scheduled parole review up by nearly a year.

Regardless of what the Parole Board does, the habeas corpus action will likely move forward for an important reason for Wershe. If the Detroit federal judge agrees with Wershe's lawyers, he could order that Wershe be re-sentenced as Michigan has done for hundreds of other inmates in light of various court rulings about sentencing juveniles to long prison terms for non-violent offenses. Wershe was 17 when he was arrested, 18 when he was sentenced to life in prison.
If he is re-sentenced, and his trial judge, Dana Hathaway of Wayne County Circuit Court has indicated a belief that he should be re-sentenced, that will mean, in effect, he's over-served time behind bars and he won't be subject to several years of probation and supervision. That would be a big burden off Wershe's shoulders. So the habeas corpus battle has some important stakes for Wershe regardless of what the Parole Board does with his case.

Some hooray-for-me self-promoters in the media like to think their coverage of the Wershe story is responsible for the sudden change in his parole status. The truth is more diffuse and doesn't lend itself to such self-congratulation. 

The increased media interest in the White Boy Rick story; including this blog, including a Hollywood movie based loosely on his story, the continued interest of Wershe’s many citizen supporters and the relentless efforts of his lifelong friend, Dave Majkowski, who manages the Free Rick Wershe Facebook page; all of these things have added to keeping the spotlight on this case of a man who is a political prisoner.

For those who haven’t read the Informant America blog posts over the past two years, the evidence is pretty clear that Wershe IS a political prisoner. His real sin is that he told on the wrong people. As a teen, Wershe was a paid FBI informant. He told the FBI about payoffs and criminal influence over powerful people in the corrupt Detroit/Wayne County political machine. The shady politicians, including the late Gil Hill, ex-Homicide top cop and later City Council President, took a lot of heat from the FBI as a result of Wershe’s informant work. They got even by working long and hard to keep Wershe in prison for life. At long last, that may be changing.

Speaking of the Informant America blog, regular readers might be interested to know this coming week marks two years’ worth of regular blog posts on the amazing story of Richard J. Wershe, Jr.—White Boy Rick. The Informant America blog has been viewed over 223,000 times by people interested in the Wershe story. Not bad for a single-subject Internet blog site. The interest of readers like you has played a tangible part in keeping the heat on a state and local criminal “justice” system that is rotten to the core.

Informant America has revealed a lot, but not all, about the Rick Wershe saga. There are things I haven’t reported or made public, yet.

As an offshoot of this blog I’ve been writing a non-fiction book about how Rick’s story typifies many of the things that are horribly, horribly wrong with this nation’s so-called War on Drugs. I’ve battled for months using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain the true story of Richard J. Wershe from the files of the federal, state and local governments. It’s a convoluted, sordid and disgraceful tale with no heroes. And the federal government is fighting the release of certain file information related to Wershe that must be, um, uh, unpleasant - for the government. There are some cans of worms they would rather not have opened. People are shocked to learn a 14-year old was recruited to do dangerous undercover work in the War on Drugs. But there are other dirty secrets about the Wershe story the government is fighting to keep under wraps. 

The book will expose the truth about the trillion-dollar national fiasco we call the War on Drugs and White Boy Rick’s part in it. No, there isn't a publication date yet. Stay tuned.    

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