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‘White Boy Rick’ drug trafficker could be released on new law

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Rick Wershe Jr. sits in a courtroom at Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit on Friday. (David Coates/Detroit News via AP)

DETROIT » A major Detroit-area drug trafficker known as "White Boy Rick" could soon be released from prison following nearly 30 years behind bars, after a judge on Friday ordered a resentencing hearing.

Richard Wershe Jr., 46, deserves a new sentence because he was sentenced at age 18 under an old law, and the justice system now treats juveniles differently than adults, Wayne County Circuit Judge Dana Hathaway ruled.

A release from prison would be "like lifting the weight of the world off my shoulders," Wershe later told WDIV-TV.

The judge scheduled the resentencing for Sept. 18, while prosecutors immediately appealed the decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Prosecutors believe Wershe’s sentence is lawful and note that his rights-violations claims were rejected on a previous appeal.

Defense attorney Ralph Musilli said his client could even be released immediately after the September hearing, given the years he has served.

"He has done his time," his mother, Darlene McCormick, said after the hearing. "He’s been very good and he needs to get out, spend time with his family."

At the time Wershe was arrested in 1987, authorities described him as being at the top echelons of trafficking. One judge said at a 1987 hearing that "he’s worse than a mass murderer."

Prosecutors said he had cocaine before his arrest but dumped it in a neighbor’s yard. His lawyers said the cocaine was found only after Wershe was beaten by police.

Authorities say he had eight kilos, or 17.6 pounds, of cocaine. He was convicted of possessing more than 650 grams of cocaine and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

However, changes made in 2002 to Michigan’s drug laws made him eligible for parole the next year.

Hathaway said she wasn’t ruling that a life sentence with parole was unconstitutional. Rather, Wershe is "entitled to be resentenced with consideration given to his youth and the circumstances surrounding the crime."

In their appeal Friday, prosecutors accused Hathaway of overstepping and argued that only the governor or state parole board could release him from prison.

"The action of the circuit court here is the wrong relief, in the wrong forum, for the wrong reasons," prosecutors wrote. "It should promptly be reversed."

Wershe was a childhood friend of musician Kid Rock, who testified on his behalf in 2003 before the Michigan Parole Board.

Wershe, who is being held in a state prison in northern Michigan, has helped the FBI investigate drugs and police corruption.

"They put him away for life, they buried him and they said, ‘Not only are we going to hope everyone forgets about him, we’re going to take … action to make sure he stays buried,’" Musilli said.

Wershe’s son, Richard Williams, also attended the hearing. The 27-year-old was born shortly after his father was imprisoned.

Williams said it’s hard to put into words how he feels. He acknowledges that his father, like everybody, "has to play by the rules." Still, Williams added, he’s "hoping that the rules can be fair for once."

"I grew up near where he grew up, where he was picked up," Williams said. "It’s worse now than it ever was. … Is keeping him off the streets really helping anything that all these prosecutors and whoever is saying is helping? I don’t think so."

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