DETROIT - Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced Friday that she has decided to reevaluate her position on "White Boy" Rick Wershe's parole.
Worthy, one of the most outspoken people working to keep Wershe behind bars, originally said Wershe deserves the life sentence he was given as a juvenile drug offender. She has maintained that stance throughout Wershe's battle for a lighter sentence.
But now, she is reconsidering her position. She told the Local 4 Defenders:
Having been deeply immersed in the Juvenile Life Without Parole murder cases for the last six months, I have noted parallels to the Richard Wershe case that have caused me to review the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office position in his case. However, it is important to note that only the Michigan Parole Board determines who does or doesn't receive parole."
This past September, Wershe was in court to be re-sentenced by judge Dana Hathaway, but it all came to a screeching halt when Worthy objected, saying Hathaway didn't have the authority to release Wershe from prison. The Court of Appeals agreed with Worthy and the Supreme Court refused to act, so Wershe still sits in prison.
Wershe was a juvenile when he was convicted of possessing more than 650 grams of cocaine and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Hathaway said the 46-year-old deserves a new sentence because he was sentenced at the age of 18 under an old law.
The United States Supreme Court has said the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment requires juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison for non-murder crimes to have a meaningful chance to obtain parole.
FULL COVERAGE: The story of White Boy Rick
If Wershe were arrested today, he would do a maximum 11 years on the drug case and two more for helping a car theft ring from behind bars - and that does not account Wershe's work as a police informant for three years as a teenager. He helped authorities obtain over a dozen major convictions while he was behind bars.
"He has been sentenced to life in prison," said MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz. "And the Parole Board, after having considered all relevant facts and circumstances, has determined that paroling Mr. Wershe is not in the best interests of society and public safety."
Wershe will sit in prison until the parole board lets him out, the governor pardons him, or the federal courts rule Michigan is dishing out cruel and unusual punishment.
'They're stealing my life, one day at a time'
Wershe has had no luck with the courts or justice system while trying to get released from prison. Now he hopes that Hollywood can help him finally get out.
"It's sad," Wershe said. "The people who don't have the backbone to change the law or don't care. They're basically stealing my life one day at a time."
"If you asked, the public as our representatives, doing what we would like them to do, the nearly universal answer would be no," said Local 4 legal expert Neil Rockind. "Everybody believes Rick Wershe should be released."
It's the stuff great Hollywood movies are made of, and Sony pictures is making one, hiring some of the biggest names in Hollywood. In a phone interview from behind bars, Wershe said it might be his best chance at freedom.
"We worked hard," he said. "It took longer than anticipated, but I think it's going to be a good project. I think it's going to show a true story of what happened."
Wershe was a police informant at 14 years old -- given cash to snitch on drug dealers in his Detroit neighborhood -- when police stopped paying him. He started selling drugs, and at 17 years old, he was caught and has been in jail ever since, despite continuing to helping police catch dirty cops and drug dealers from behind bars.
April, 2016: Old enemy wants 'White Boy Rick' freed
Scott Franklin is producing the movie. He's won awards for movies, including "Black Swan" and "The Wrestler." Yann Demange is directing, fresh off his award winning film "71."
Wershe said the justice system has failed him, and he hopes the movie will create national outrage toward those responsible.
"Thirty years for a drug charge, it's a bit much," Wershe said. "Especially when they're letting off people for murders."
It's possible Wershe could be out in time for the movie's premiere. The parole board is supposed to have a parole hearing in 2017 to consider his release.
Need a refresher on the full White Boy Rick story? Check out ClickOnDetroit.com's White Boy Rick special coverage page or continue reading for a summary of events.
Appeals court denies resentencing
It appeared Wershe might finally get his day in court. But prosecutors who had fought to keep him behind bars immediately appealed Hathaway's ruling.
In September 2015, the Court of Appeals decided Wershe would not be resentenced for the drug crimes.
"The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office has prevailed in the Michigan Court of Appeals and the defendant's original sentence remains in effect," the Prosecutor's Office announced.
Wershe was let down, but not surprised.
"I'm disappointed, let down a little bit, but I expected it, to be honest with you," he said. "After all this time in here, you don't believe you are going to get out of here until the day you walk out of here. I'll keep fighting until my dying breath."
How Wershe got involved
Back in the 1980s, the crack epidemic led to a wild west scene in Detroit, and Wershe quickly learned from some of the most infamous criminals how to run a successful drug-dealing business.
Wershe became involved with the Curry organization before kingpin Johnny Curry, along with his brother Leo, were sentenced to 20 years. They have both since been released from prison.
After the Curry brothers went to jail, Wershe began moving up the ranks and soon controlled much of the crack trade on Detroit's east side.
Wershe soon began dating Curry's wife, Cathy Volsen, who was also the niece of former Mayor Coleman Young.
Wershe's success soon ran out when the DEA targeted his operation, orchestrating drug buys and executing search warrants that ultimately led to his arrest.
Early into serving his prison sentence, Wershe was convicted of participating in a stolen car ring from behind bars. In an interview Local 4 did back in 1990, Wershe said he had made mistakes but was willing to make up for it by turning in some of Detroit's most powerful people.
In an attempt to shorten his prison time, Wershe began assisting the FBI as an informant, ultimately resulting in the conviction of corrupt police officers in the Detroit area.
"I embarrassed a lot of people," said Wershe. "All I did was what I was asked, and all I did was tell the truth."
The information provided by Wershe led to the arrests of family and friends of Coleman Young, including his favorite bodyguard, Jimmy Harris; his brother-in-law, Willie Volsen, and his niece, Cathy Volsen.
"He was extremely upset at me," said Wershe. "I thought any mayor would love to have corrupt cops off of their force but to Coleman Young, I was a stool pigeon."
Gregg Schwarz was the FBI agent who turned Wershe's information into new arrests and said that Wershe should have been thanked by the Michigan Parole Board and released from prison.
Wershe also provided information on one of Detroit's most popular cops, Gil Hill, a homicide boss who allegedly helped a drug dealer cover up the shooting death of a 12-year-old. Wershe claims he heard a phone call between Hill and the murderer.
"Basically Gil told him everything that was going on and that he had it under control and that he would be in touch and not to worry about anything," said Wershe.
Hill was investigated but never charged.
Wershe starting working as informant at age 14
Wershe has served more prison time than any other non-violent juvenile offender in Michigan. At age 14, police were paying Wershe to rat-out neighborhood drug dealers.
When someone he snitched on got suspicious and had him shot, police abandoned him. So he started selling drugs for real and in a year's time he was caught, convicted, and nicknamed "White Boy Rick."
Nearly 30 years later, Rick Wershe is still in prison.
Alan Dershowitz: 'This is a terrible, terrible injustice'
Local 4's Kevin Dietz went to New York City to discuss the White Boy Rick case with high-profile attorney Alan Dershowitz.
"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.
Dershowitz is investigating the case.
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