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juvenile lifers

Richard Wershe Jr. ("White Boy Rick") received a life sentence because he was caught as a 16-year-old with eight kilos of cocaine in Detroit in the 1980s.
Michigan Department of Corrections

After almost 30 years in prison, Rick Wershe, better known as White Boy Rick, has been paroled. Wershe claims he is is the nation's longest-serving non-violent juvenile drug offender. He was serving a life sentence because he was caught as a 16-year-old with eight kilos of cocaine in Detroit in the 1980s.

Kevin Dietz, a reporter with WDIV Local 4 who talked to Wershe after the decision was announced, joined Stateside to talk about the case and what's next for Wershe.

Michigan Department of Corrections

A man in Michigan who was sentenced to life in prison without parole nearly 50 years ago as a teenager may soon be released.

The Herald-Palladium reports that at 17 years old, Bobby Gene Griffin was handed Michigan's then-automatic life without parole sentence for the 1967 murder of Minnie Peaples. The law has since changed, saying juveniles convicted of murder won't receive mandatory life sentences.

Judge's gavel
(loveamourlove.com)

The Michigan appeals court has ordered a new sentence for a Kalamazoo teenager convicted of murder and suggested that he shouldn't be locked up for the rest of his life.

The court upheld the conviction of 16-year-old Victor Garay, saying the evidence in a 2014 gang-related shooting was "overwhelming." But the court said Tuesday that Judge Alexander Lipsey didn't handle the sentencing correctly.

Richard Wershe Jr. ("White Boy Rick") received a life sentence because he was caught as a 16-year-old with eight kilos of cocaine in Detroit in the 1980s. The documentary about him entitled "White Boy" is premiering at the Freep Film Festival.
Screen grab from Transition Studios

Richard Wershe Jr., otherwise known as "White Boy Rick", has been in prison for nearly 30 years. He's serving a life sentence because he was caught as a 16-year-old with eight kilos of cocaine in Detroit in the 1980s.

A new documentary exploring how the FBI got him involved in the drug game and the people who are working to keep him in prison, made its world premiere in Detroit as part of the Freep Film Festival Friday night.

The title of the film is "White Boy” and its director, Shawn Rech, joined Stateside to talk about how this project came to be.

Michigan Radio has been selected as a winner of a 2017 Wade H. McCree Award for the Advancement of Justice by the Michigan Press Association Foundation.  The station was recognized for the series, “Michigan’s Juvenile Lifers: Who gets a second chance?” The series, which aired in December, 2016, took a close look at how Michigan is following up on a landmark U.S.

Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

It happened in a Detroit alley in 1967.

Detroiter John Hall and an accomplice beat a man who later died of his injuries.

John Hall was convicted of first-degree murder and received a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. He was 17 years old. His accomplice was never arrested.

But Hall's future changed with two landmark rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court – rulings that outlawed mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles.

On Feb. 2, at age 67, John Hall walked out of a Michigan prison.

Flickr user Still Burning / Flickr Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The state Senate has adopted a criminal justice overhaul that aims to improve public safety by sending fewer people to prison. The 21 bills passed with almost unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats.

While crime and the number of prisoners is on its way down, state Senator John Proos (R-St. Joseph) says the state can do better. He says the key is making sure inmates succeed once they are released.

Judge's gavel
Joe Gratz / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The Michigan Supreme Court says it will settle whether juries - instead of judges - have the sole power to decide whether someone under 18 gets life in prison without parole.

If the Court decides to give the sentencing power to juries, the juries would have to make a specific determination that the convicted had no hope of being rehabilitated and deserved a no-parole sentence.

JoshuaDavisPhotography / Flickr Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Prosecutors for Macomb, Saginaw, Genesee, and Oakland counties in Michigan are not complying with two U.S. Supreme Court decisions about juvenile lifers, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in state court.

The complaint says the four prosecutors are seeking life without parole in the re-sentencing of almost every one of the more than 100  juvenile lifer cases in their counties. And the complaint says this is in direct disregard of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

A roundup of our juvenile lifers in Michigan series

Dec 20, 2016
Photos from our series on juvenile lifers in Michigan.
Steve Carmody, Jodi Westrick, and Thomas Hawk. / Michigan Radio and Flickr - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

In the 1990s, Michigan took a tough stand against teens under 18 convicted of violent crimes. Prosecutors in Michigan started locking more of them up for life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life without parole sentences are unconstitutional for juveniles. The justices found that it violated the Eighth Amendments' prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment."

Infographic.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

With one landmark ruling in 2012, the United States Supreme Court made it clear: mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole for teenagers under 18 are unconstitutional. They said the sentence is considered "cruel and unusual punishment" under the 8th Amendment.

The justices cited research on brain development to determine their ruling.

From the majority opinion in Miller v. Alabama:

"If the prosecutors were picking one person and saying, this is the rare one, that would be very different. But they're picking 250 people and saying, they're all rare, without exercising the discretion," Labelle said.
flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court handed down a directive saying that all prisoners sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as minors, so-called “juvenile lifers,” should get the chance to have their sentences reconsidered.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Four years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional to sentence people younger than 18 to mandatory life without parole. And just about one year ago, the court made that decision retroactive.

In Michigan, prosecutors have been testing the limits of that decision. They’re asking courts to uphold life-without-parole for most of the 363 inmates affected.

(Left to right) William Washington, Lizzie Young and Vincent Washington.
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Wayne County has more than 150 juvenile lifers, by far the most in the state. As of today, only one of them – and, in fact, the only person among the more than 360 juvenile lifers in the entire state of Michigan – has been given that second chance. 

On June 4, 1975, 17-year-old William Washington and his 26-year-old co-defendant, Kenneth Rucker, robbed a record store. After a scuffle with the store owner, Mr. Rucker took the victim into the back room and shot him to death. This incident led to Washington receiving a life without parole sentence for first degree murder, as well as a second life sentence for armed robbery, for his role as an aider and abettor.

On November 17th of this year – 41 years after he went to prison – William Washington became a free man.  

Washington and his mother Lizzie Young joined us in the studio.

Renard Johnson appears in court for resentencing via videoconference.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Wayne County has more than 150 juveniles serving mandatory life-without-parole prison sentences.

That’s by far the most in the state. And because of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, they all need to be re-sentenced.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy wants 67 of those people to stay behind bars for life. But a lot of people are wondering how she decided who deserves a second chance, and who doesn’t.

“He’s been gone so long”

Renard Johnson has been behind bars since he was 17 years old.

Judge's gavel
Joe Gratz / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

 

The 2012 Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama held that mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional.

The court’s 2016 decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana said the Miller decision was retroactive, meaning that everyone sentenced to life without parole as a juvenile is entitled to have their sentences reconsidered.

Outside the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments in the juvenile lifer cases in March 2012.
courtesy of Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins / http://www.teenkillers.org/

In his office in downtown Grand Rapids, Kent County prosecutor Bill Forsyth has stacks of boxes up against a long wall. They’re labeled and stuffed with transcripts, police reports, autopsy reports. 

“That’s about half of what I had when we started,” he said, motioning toward them. 

About a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court said states had to review the cases of juvenile lifers who were sentenced before automatic life was declared unconstitutional. The court said automatically sentencing juveniles to life without parole was cruel and unusual punishment. 

Courtesy of the Office of the Genesee County Prosecuting Attorney

Michigan prosecutors have come under national scrutiny for what critics have argued is an effort to ignore, or at least slowly comply with, the recent Supreme Court rulings that require all juveniles sentenced to mandatory life without parole to have their sentences reconsidered.

We’ve heard from several people in favor of a review and resentencing in every juvenile lifer case, including ACLU attorney Deborah LaBelle, who’s been trying to get the state's prosecutors to do more with juvenile lifers.  

Courtesy Clari Cabral / Creative Commons -- http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

All this week, we’re looking at juvenile lifers in Michigan -- those inmates sentenced to mandatory life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were minors.

Michigan ranks second in the number of prisoners who fit this classification. There are more than 360 juvenile lifers in Michigan, and a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases has meant that Michigan has to take a second look at the sentences these inmates were given.

documents
Isaac Bowen / Flickr, http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan has 363 prisoners who have been sentenced to mandatory life without parole, the second most in the nation. Early in 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that all of these prisoners must have their sentences reconsidered.

Currently, only a fraction of these cases have been reevaluated and resentenced.

The process of resentencing these juvenile offenders requires much more than a simple file review and hearing. Many documents have to be organized and processed in order for attorneys and judges to properly evaluate each case.

Shayan Sanyal / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

When teenagers commit murder, you can’t treat them the same as adults.

Legally, the U.S. Supreme Court says you can’t just throw teenagers in prison forever, with no chance at parole, except in very rare cases. 

What "rare" really means in Michigan 

Matt Landry was just 21 years old when he was shot and killed, execution style, in an abandoned house in Detroit.

Doreen Landry, his mom, talked to WDIV about Landry’s killers.

Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

As this infographic shows, only Pennsylvania ranks higher than Michigan when it comes to handing out life sentences without the possibility for parole to juveniles.

The U.S. Supreme Court says states have to review these sentences for all those who were convicted and sentenced as juveniles, and that "life without the possibility of parole" should only be reserved for "the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility."

Click on the graphic to see more.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There are 363 Michigan inmates in state prisons closely watching how the state of Michigan and local prosecutors implement two U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

The decisions struck down mandatory life sentences for juveniles. The lifers were convicted of murder and sentenced in the late 1980s and 1990s under a get-tough approach to juvenile crime.

The laws were a response to a wave of violent crime that swept the state and the country.

There are more than 350 prisoners in Michigan who have been sentenced to life in prison, without parole, for crimes they committed as juveniles. A 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found that states must retroactively review all these cases, saying that life sentences for juveniles should only be reserved for "the rarest of juvenile offenders.” Prosecutors in Michigan have been slow to comply.

Prison wall
Microsoft Images

Michigan prosecutors are continuing their resistance to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the issue of juvenile life sentences without parole.

The Supreme Court already ruled that denying parole to juvenile lifers is unconstitutional, except in the rarest of cases.

The ACLU is suing Michigan over the state's vague standards for denying parole to juvenile lifers.

Daniel Korobkin, the Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU of Michigan, says the state is being stubborn in terms of following the Supreme Court’s decision.

Judge's gavel
Joe Gratz / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

A man sentenced to automatic life in prison as a juvenile could get that sentence reinstated, even though decades of his court files are missing.

That’s what a Wayne County Circuit Court judge has ruled.

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Charles Lewis was convicted of murder and sentenced to automatic life without parole in 1977, when he was 17.

That makes him a so-called “juvenile lifer.” And the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled all juvenile lifers are entitled to a shot at parole or re-sentencing, except in the “rarest” cases.

Michigan Dept of Corrections

DETROIT (AP) - Workers have been paid overtime to search for a missing court file as a man seeks a new sentence in the death of an off-duty Detroit police officer.

  For nearly 40 years, Charles Lewis has been serving a no-parole sentence for the death of Gerald Swyitkowski. But Lewis was 17 at the time of the shooting and now is entitled to a hearing to determine if he'll be eligible for parole.

  But Wayne County authorities can't find the court file from the 1976 case. Lewis' attorney, Valerie Newman, says it's "impossible" to represent him without the records.

Charles Lewis at a hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A Detroit man sentenced to life without parole for a 1977 murder is entitled to a new sentence.

But efforts just to start that process have stalled again because of missing court files.

Charles Lewis was only 17 when he was convicted in the robbery-murder of an off-duty Detroit police officer.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in two recent cases that sentencing juveniles to life without parole is unconstitutional, except in the “rarest” cases.

Lewis is one of more than 300 Michigan “juvenile lifers” now awaiting re-sentencing, which should mean at least a shot at parole.

Charles Lews
Michigan Department of Corrections

A 59-year-old Detroit man convicted of murder at age 17 deserves a new sentence, his supporters argued Tuesday before a hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Charles Lewis is one of 367 “juvenile lifers” in Michigan — prisoners who were sentenced to automatic life without parole as minors.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recently ruled that unconstitutional in most cases, and ordered juvenile lifers a meaningful chance at meaningful parole. 

Public domain

More than 360 Michigan inmates have been dealt a setback.

The prisoners were all sentenced to automatic life without parole as teenagers. The U.S. Supreme Court says that's unconstitutional.

So local prosecutors were set to re-sentence those Michigan inmates. 

Attorneys for those prisoners objected. They worried local prosecutors would routinely seek life without parole during re-sentencing, and argued the Supreme Court decision should prevent that.

But Judge John Corbett O'Meara disagreed.

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