‘White Boy Rick’ will be resentenced

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — After spending more than a quarter century in jail, the one-time teenage drug dealer known as “White Boy Rick” learned Friday that he could finally be sprung.

Judge Dana Hathaway of Wayne County Circuit Court ruled that Rick Wershe Jr. is “entitled” to have his sentence of life without parole reconsidered, a decision Wershe and his attorney hope will lead to his release. The resentencing hearing is set for Sept. 18.

Hathaway said Wershe should have his sentence reconsidered because the criminal drug laws have changed since he was convicted in 1988 of possession to deliver more than 650 grams of a controlled substance. The abolished laws Wershe was sentenced under were so-called “lifer” laws, while current law allows for parole.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010 abolished the so-called “lifer law,” calling it “cruel and unusual punishment.”

In the mid and late 1980s, Wershe was a fresh-faced teen who wore a page-boy hairdo and snappy suits while dealing drugs on the city’s east side, according to police. Authorities allege he joined the drug trade at age 14.

Friday’s hearing was the first time Wershe, 46, has been outside prison walls since he began serving his sentence. Wearing a green, two-piece prison uniform, Wershe showed little reaction to Hathaway’s ruling but about 20 family members and supporters who attended the brief hearing rejoiced.

His 27-year-old son, Richard Williams, said he was “overwhelmed.”

“We have to play by the rules. He has to play by the rules, (but) the rules can be fair for once,” said Williams, born after Wershe went to prison. “The biggest thing is the topic of justice came up (during the hearing).”

Wershe’s mother, Darlene McCormick, said she was overjoyed at the prospect of being able to see her son outside prison walls.

“He owes me years of love,” McCormick said after the hearing. “He’s done his time. He’s been very good.”

McCormick said her son is nervous. “He just wants to hope for the best and be calm about it,” she said.

Attorney Ralph Musilli said Wershe is “stunned” by the possibility of freedom.

“Twenty-eight years in prison .... and you got the chance to be free,” Musilli said. “It’s like a bolt out of the blue.”

But the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office said Friday it will appeal Hathaway’s ruling to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Hathaway denied a request by assistant Wayne County prosecutor Tim Baughman for a stay in the proceedings during the appeal.

Musilli said he will work with Florida authorities on a 2006 case in which Wershe pleaded guilty to participating in a car theft ring from behind bars.

The attorney said Wershe pleaded guilty to protect his mother and that his client was tied to a vehicle purchase he and his family believed was legal.

The Florida case could add more time to Wershe’s sentence but Musilli said he plans to ask that the punishment be included in the time Wershe has already served.

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office has opposed shaving any time off Wershe’s prison term, writing in court briefs that the sentence is “absolutely lawful” and that “there is no basis to disturb it.”

Authorities say Wershe was among a string of colorful players in Detroit’s burgeoning and often-violent drug trade that exploded during the heyday of the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s. Wershe’s life as a drug dealer, which Musilli describes more as a wholesaler, is the subject of at least two books.

Musilli said Wershe was used as a drug informant to bring down powerful people in the city’s drug trade and then “thrown to the wolves” when he was brought back to serve his time in Michigan.

Musilli said authorities “ were the ones who got him involved (in drug dealing).”

Musilli said as a result of Wershe’s work with police and federal agents, “(Wershe) helped put bad people in jail. Everybody got out (of jail) but him.”