State appeals court denies ‘White Boy Rick’ resentencing bid
Convicted drug dealer Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe Jr. lost a bid to have his life sentence reduced, the latest chapter in the case of a teen-aged drug kingpin with a pageboy haircut that has enthralled Metro Detroiters for decades.
A three-judge panel reversed Wayne County Circuit Judge Dana Hathaway’s decision Sept. 4 to grant Wershe the chance to be resentenced on his life sentence. Hathaway had granted Wershe’s lawyer the opportunity to have his sentence on drug dealing reduced in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Wershe’s attorneys have argued he has been in prison for 28 years on a “lifer” criminal drug law that has since been abolished. Wershe’s appellate attorney, Peter Van Hoek, called the three-judge panel’s decision “disappointing.” He said he plans to appeal the case to the Michigan Supreme and file legal briefs in two to three weeks.
“This is just another step in the process,” Van Hoek said about the court’s ruling Tuesday.
Van Hoek said he spoke to Wershe shortly after getting the ruling Tuesday and said his client was “disappointed ... obviously.”
“The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office has prevailed in the Michigan Court of Appeals and the defendant’s original sentence remains in effect,” Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller said.
In issuing the ruling, Michigan Court of Appeals judges Christopher M. Murray, Michael J. Talbot and Kirsten Frank Kelly noted part of their decision was based on an “undisputed” fact that Wershe “has filed prior motions for relief from judgment. The standards contained within (the law) apply, a fact defendant recognizes on appeal.”
The judges ruled the law in Michigan allows a defendant to file second or subsequent motions only when “based on a retroactive change in law that occurred after the first motion for relief from judgment or a claim of new evidence that was not discovered before the first such motion.”
Van Hoek said he is hoping the Michigan Court of Appeals sees his argument from a broader standpoint and recognizes the laws have changed since Wershe filed for resentencing in 2003.
Wershe, 46, was sentenced at age 17 to a life sentence without parole in 1988 for possession to deliver more than 650 grams of a controlled substance.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010 abolished so-called “lifer” laws, calling them “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Wershe’s longtime attorney, Ralph Musilli, called the ruling “ridiculous” and “absurd.”
“They’re hanging it up on technicality because there were no retroactive changes in the law,” Musilli said. “They’re discounting the ruling by the United States of America in 2010.”
Musilli said he and Wershe are not giving up on his client’s chance to be resentenced, which could possibly mean freedom for the former alleged drug informant.
“How can you give up on a man’s life,” Musilli said. “He went in prison at 18 years old on a non-violent crime. You can’t just let this guy stay in prison. Some of the people he helped police and the FBI put in prison are out of prison now. They have been out for 10 years.”
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. But, Musilli said, Wershe was working as an informant for the federal government and Detroit police as a young teen.
Wershe was turned down for parole in 2003, 2007 and 2012. His next scheduled parole board hearing is in December 2017.