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The appellate attorney for Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe Jr. is hoping the state’s highest court will give his client some relief as he tries to be freed from a life sentence on a drug conviction.

Peter Van Hoek on Friday filed briefs with the Michigan Supreme Court asking it to hear his arguments for resentencing.

Wershe went to prison 28 years ago on a “lifer” drug law that was struck down in 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court, which considered it “cruel and unusual punishment.” His supporters say he has served enough time behind bars and served longer than some of the people who were jailed based on information he provided to federal and local police.

Van Hoek said Friday he hopes the state’s high court will take the case which could lead to more hearings on an appeal for Wershe to get the chance at being resentenced.

“We’re hoping they will overturn the Michigan Court of Appeals and reinstate (Wayne County Circuit Court) Judge Dana Hathaway’s ruling,” Van Hoek said Friday.

Last month, Hathaway ruled Wershe was “entitled” to be resentenced. The Michigan Court of Appeals overturned Hathaway.

In his brief Friday, Van Hoek wrote: “The decision of the Court of Appeals is clearly erroneous and will cause manifest injustice to Mr. Wershe, the appeal concerns legal principles of major importance to the state's jurisprudence, and the opinion conflicts with decisions of this Court and of other panels of the Court of Appeals.

“The present case involves an important and significant issue of law and fact. In her opinion and order, Judge Hathaway ruled that because Mr. Wershe’s original sentence of mandatory nonparolable life as a juvenile for a non-homicide offense was indisputably unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, pursuant to subsequent decisions of the United States Supreme Court...”

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Wershe, 46, was sentenced in 1988 at age 17 to a life sentence without parole for possession to deliver more than 650 grams of a controlled substance. His longtime defense attorney, Ralph Musilli, said Wershe was not a drug dealer. He said Wershe was a paid informant for the federal government and the Detroit police.

Musilli, Van Hoek and Wershe are hoping a resentencing could spring him from prison.

The county prosecutor’s office says it opposes any resentencing.

“The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office has consistently opposed resentencing in his case,” said Maria Miller, spokeswoman for Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy Friday.

Van Hoek of the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office says he is buoyed by the recent decision by federal authorities to release 6,000 non-violent drug offenders.

“It’s part of the whole trend of going back and releasing people from old, harsher sentences,” Van Hoek said Friday.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2027

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