Criminal defense attorney Steve Fishman wrote this column in response to a column by Deadline Detroit's Allan Lengel, who insisted that the Michigan Parole Board is committing a crime by keeping Richard "White Boy Rick" Wershe Jr. behind bars for 26 years. Wershe was convicted of cocaine trafficking as a teenager and was sentenced to life without parole under a law that mandated the unparolable sentence if caught with more than 650 grams of cocaine. The law was later changed and he was re-sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.
Fishman authored a letter to the administration of Gov. Jennifer Granholm on behalf of a group of people pushing for clemency for Wershe. Wershe was never a client, and Fishman did not know him while he was on the streets. Fishman said it was just the right thing to do to advocate for his release.
By Steve Fishman
To my knowledge, Rick Wershe is the only person in Michigan still serving a life sentence for possession of over 650 grams. Everyone else, including at least one of my clients who was also a teenager at the time of the crime, has received parole since the drug statute changed.
Those of us who are old enough can recall the media hoopla when a 17-year old white kid with the media-friendly nickname "White Boy Rick" was alleged to be the capo di tutti capi of all the drug lords in Detroit in the mid-to late 80s.
As a lawyer who represented many of the guys who were in fact the top dogs in the drug business in those days, the notion that a 17-year old kid - black, white, or purple - could have been the boss of those grown men is so ridiculous as to deserve no further comment. And to suggest, as the Parole Board spokesman did in the article, that Rick Wershe's situation is comparable to other lifers - most of them serving sentences for violent crimes - is an insult to our collective intelligence.
Given the number of people supporting parole for Rick Wershe, including police officers, federal agents, prosecutors, and lawyers, the only possible explanation for his continued incarceration is a lack of guts on the part of the Parole Board.
It is long past time for the Board to recognize, as so many people involved in law enforcement already have, that the time has come to grant him a parole.