Federal court gives 'White Boy' Rick Wershe new chance at freedom

Former drug offender has spent 28 years behind bars

DETROIT - Residents of Metro Detroit have watched for years as "White Boy" Rick Wershe's attempts to become a free man have been blocked.

Many people believe the 1980s drug offender has one of the most unfairly long sentences ever given in the war against drugs, while others believe Wershe should stay behind bars.

But his next chance at freedom could be the best one he's ever had.

A new order is a huge step toward freedom and could be Wershe's ticket out of prison. He said he's excited, but staying cautiously optimistic.

"I call it peaks and valleys," Wershe said. "You have good days and bad days, like a roller coaster ride of emotions."

Wershe's roller coaster ride to freedom took a huge turn Wednesday with a federal court of appeals scheduling oral arguments on allegations of cruel and unusual punishment. For the first time ever, the Michigan parole board will have to explain why they believe Wershe deserves the life sentence he received.

FULL COVERAGE: White Boy Rick

"Murderers have been released, robbers have been released, rapists have been released," Wershe's attorney, Ralph Musilli, said.

Wershe is the longest serving non-violent juvenile in Michigan history. He was arrested at 17 years old on cocaine charges and is still behind bars 28 years later.

Wershe has only had one parole hearing, which was 13 years ago.

"The Supreme Court says when a juvenile is involved, you can't throw away the key," Musilli said. "You have to give him -- and the magical word is -- a 'reasonable' expectation of release."

The showdown will take place March 16 in Cincinnati's 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Each side has 15 minutes to make its case. The court has the authority to order Wershe released on the spot if it isn't satisfied with the parole board's treatment of him. They could also demand he have a new parole hearing or continue to let the parole board hold him until they feel he's no longer a danger to the community.

One major recent change is that Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said she will no longer fight Wershe's release.

"There are no words to describe how it makes you feel," Wershe said. "I feel like she is doing the right thing, and I appreciate it more than she could ever know."

The Attorney General's Office, run by Bill Schutte, will represent the parole board. It will be their job to convince the panel of judges that it has been the right decision to keep Wershe locked up all these years.

Wershe's incarceration has become an international story, and Hollywood is currently shooting a movie about his story.

Independent of the federal case, the parole board has scheduled a first meeting with Wershe on Feb. 14, when they'll ask him if he were to be paroled, where he would live, where he would work and in what ways has he been rehabilitated. If that meeting goes well, the board would have a full public hearing to debate his release.

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