DETROIT – "White Boy" Rick Wershe has spent nearly 30 years behind bars since he was convicted of possessing more than 650 grams of cocaine in 1988, but Friday offers his best chance at parole.
Wershe has been denied opportunities at parole during his prison stay, but last month he finally met with parole board members for a hearing about his possible release.
Wershe's attorney, Ralph Musilli, was with him as he testified in front of two members of the parole board and Assistant Attorney General Scott Rothenal, who are the officials hearing Wershe's case.
Transcripts of the hearing were collected and sent to the parole board for review. A decision on Wershe's possible release is expected to be announced on Friday.
The board members could decide to approve or deny Wershe's parole or ask for more time and push the decision back to their August meeting.
If Wershe's parole is approved, the earliest he can be freed is in August, because it takes 29 additional days for him to be released from prison.
If parole is denied, he will remain in behind bars.
Wershe is already the longest-serving nonviolent juvenile offender in Michigan history.
Parole board hearing
During the hearing, Wershe opened up like never before, admitting to pretty much everything police accused him of doing. But at the same time, he said he has been fully rehabilitated during his long prison stay.
"I would say I'm cautiously optimistic," Wershe said. "I want to be overjoyed and overly optimistic about it, but at the same time, I want to be a little reserved and not get too excited about something that hasn't come to fruition yet."
Musilli said it's time for his client to be freed.
"Richard Wershe Jr. was never a major drug dealer," Musilli said. "Enough is enough. He's spent enough time for what he did. The proportionality is starting to overwhelm."
It's been a waiting game almost 30 years in the making. Wershe said he survives the time now just like he has from the beginning: with the encouragement of friends and family members.
"Without the family and the outside support I have, I don't know if I would be the person I am today," Wershe said. "I mean, they keep me up. They keep me going. They keep hope alive. They give me faith that things are going to turn out alright, and I just have to take it day by day."
He's received support from thousands of strangers who believe his ongoing incarceration is cruel and unjust.
"I mean, the people, I can't even thank everyone enough for all the letters of support I've received," Wershe said. "I try to answer them all back, but I can't, to be honest with you. But I appreciate every single one of them."
Potential prison time in Florida
As it stands, if Wershe is released in Michigan, he would go directly to a prison in Florida to serve another 22 months for a crime he committed behind bars.
His attorney is trying to have the crime forgiven, since Wershe has spent more than 29 years in prison for drugs and car theft. Attorney Ralph Musilli said Wershe should have been out several years ago, but unless he can convince Florida lawmakers to give his client a break, a Florida prison will be Wershe's next stop.
Wershe has been described as a model prisoner during his time behind bars, with one major exception. He pleaded guilty 11 years ago to racketeering and conspiracy to move stolen cars in Florida.
"I introduced somebody," Wershe said. "My sister was given $6,000, and that is the extent of it."
During a previous interview, Wershe said it was an easy decision because his plea spared his mother and sister, who bought cars.
"I was told, 'You take a plea bargain, or I'm going to arrest your mom and your sister,'" Wershe said. "So what did I do? I took a plea bargain against my attorney's wishes."
Wershe was sentenced to five years to be served after his release in Michigan. He still owes 22 months to the state of Florida after credit for his time served, but Musilli is going to ask Florida officials to change the sentence to concurrent instead of consecutive, which would mean his time in Michigan prison would count for the time owed in Florida.
"The prosecutors down there don't seem to have a big problem with it, so we again are cautiously optimistic," Musilli said.
It's a deal Martin County, Florida, State Attorney Bruce Colton and State Attorney General Pam Bondi would have to sign off on, because they won't be formally asked in court motions until after the Michigan parole board's decision. They have not commented publicly about the case.
"I don't want to be in prison any longer," Wershe said. "I've been in here more than enough time, but if Florida wants me, I've got to man up, and I'll go."
The Local 4 Defenders have full coverage of the developments. Stay with ClickOnDetroit.com for updates.