Alan Dershowitz investigates Michigan's 'White Boy Rick' case
High-profile attorney says Rick Wershe's case doesn't add up
NEW YORK – Alan Dershowitz has an office full of memories from big cases such as O.J. Simpson, Patty Hearst and Jim Bakker, just to name a few.
The high-profile attorney has a letter from President Bill Clinton, which he sent him during his final days in office.
"Two young people on the same page. A young Bill Clinton and a young Alan Dershowitz," he explained when we met in his New York City office.
He's one of the biggest legal minds in America. We went to the Big Apple to talk him specifically about Michigan's longest serving non-violent juvenile offender, "White Boy" Rick Wershe. Dershowitz has examined the court pleadings and says it doesn't add up.
Special Coverage: The Story of White Boy Rick
"When I read the record on this case, I said to myself, 'There is something I don't know here.' There is something that is being kept from me, some information that the government has on this guy that they're not telling us, and in a democracy you can't have secret files. Everything has to be out in the open," he said.
Dershowitz can't see any reason Wershe should still be behind bars.
"This is a terrible, terrible injustice," he said.
Wershe was 17 when he was convicted of selling cocaine, but has no record of violence. Dershowitz said Michigan is treating him worse than killers.
"The idea that he is being kept in jail because of something they know but won't share with the general public is completely antagonist to American democratic principles," said Dershowitz.
Wershe was one of the best police informants of all time in Michigan. He helped federal officials put dozens of bad guys away, including dirty cops and former mayor Coleman Young's brother-in-law and niece. Wershe was promised his cooperation would earn him favor for release. But he was double-crossed, he said, and remains behind bars.
"It's very tough to be an informer. You're risking your life when you inform against tough people for the government," said Dershowitz.
Dershowitz thinks Wershe should sue the government for breach of contract.
"When you're an informer, that's a job and promises are made. Those promises should be enforceable," he said.
Some say Wershe deserves to be where he is, especially since he screwed up in prison by getting caught up in a car theft ring while behind bars. Dershowitz said that was a minor offense and it has nothing to do with his outrageously long incarceration.
"Parole boards look for any excuse to do nothing, and this conviction while in prison provides the perfect excuse for doing nothing," he said.
So why is Rick Wershe still behind bars? Dershowitz suspects it's mostly due to politics. The United States Supreme Court has let "White Boy Rick" down, he said.
"It's a violation of a spirit, if not the letter of the cruel and unusual punishment provision. This sentence has so many constitutional problems that one would hope the court would look at it very skeptically," he said.
President Obama is pushing to re-sentence and release juvenile offenders, but Michigan won't even consider it.
"This is a state case, so the President doesn't have a direct power to order the release. But you would think that anybody who would be looking at what the President has been looking at would say this is the perfect case for a release now," said Dershowitz.
Governor Rick Snyder, meanwhile, is sitting on the sidelines.
"No governor has ever been elected because he paroled somebody, but many politicians lose their jobs because they paroled somebody," said Dershowitz.
The state parole board is either afraid to act or has been told not to.
"You can whisper to a parole board. I'm not saying that is what happened here, but we certainly know prosecutors and others can get to parole boards," said Dershowitz.
He said it seems the prosecutor may be in pursuit of making a name for herself instead of justice.
Too many prosecutors simply count convictions, notches on their belt, how many people they've managed to keep in prison. That is not the job of the prosecutor," he said.
When Judge Dana Hathaway agreed to re-sentence Wershe earlier this year, it appeared his nightmare finally was over.
"This is a case that cries out for re-sentencing and time served for release. He's served far, far, far too much time already for what he was convicted of doing as a very young man," said Dershowitz.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy objected to Hathaway's ruling and the court of appeals backed her up. Now the Michigan Supreme Court will decide. Should Wershe be re-sentenced or left to rot waiting in on a parole board that has rejected his release over and over again.
"One might at least have hope that they will see the thing in context and say to themselves, 'Oh my God, young man, drug offense, look at how much time he spent. That doesn't make sense,'" said Dershowitz.
Dershowitz may perhaps be best known for being part of the O.J. Simpson "dream team." He said people are more outraged over O.J. Simpson's acquittal than Wershe being wrongfully held beyond a reasonable amount of time.
"Our system says it's better to have 10 guilty go free than one innocent man be wrongfully confined. But the public has the opposite view: better 10 innocent stay in jail than even one guilty person get away with it. We flipped it on its head, and that's wrong," said Dershowitz.
Dershowitz has agreed to assist Wershe's attorney, Ralph Musilli, who has been working the case for free. Dershowitz said injustice of this magnitude needs as much public attention as possible.
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