St. Clair Shores attorney Ralph E. Musilli, who fought for decades without pay to free convicted cocaine dealer Richard Wershe Jr., died Tuesday at a local hospital. He was 77.
"I’ve never known anybody as dedicated to correcting a wrongful situation in the legal profession than Ralph Musilli," said retired FBI agent Gregg Schwarz, who worked with Musilli for 20 years to try and get Wershe released. "He was always in pursuit of what was the truth as opposed to what was the urban legend or the myth."
The cause of death was not immediately disclosed.
Musilli's death comes seven months after Wershe, aka "White Boy Rick," was released from a Florida prison. In all, Wershe served nearly 30 years in Michigan for cocaine trafficking and another couple years in Florida for an unrelated crime he pleaded guilty to while beind bars in the federal witness protection program.
After an unsuccessful 2003 parole hearing for Wershe, Musilli alleged that the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office sent people to testify falsely to keep Wershe behind bars. He said he had evidence, including a statement from an ex-cop. Still, the parole board for years blew Wershe off.
Puzzled Legal Experts and Feds
Wershe was first imprisoned in the late 1980s while he was a teenager. Over the years, legal experts and law enforcement agents were puzzled as to why Wershe, who helped the FBI while behind bars with multiple investigations, including police corruption, never got a break in prison time for his cooperation.
"His whole life has gone by, for God's sake," Musilli told The Detroit News last year before Wershe's release from Florida. "That's inexcusable. It really is. He was not involved in any violence at all."
Schwarz recounted how he and Musilli worked to free Wershe.
"I had been in touch with Ralph weekly for 20 years, working on letters to the parole board, to the governor's office and contacts with the news media," said the FBI retiree. "The list goes on and on of the different approaches that Musilli and myself would try to champion."
"Once again you can’t beat the political corruption machine in the city of Detroit," Schwarz said of the resistance they came up against freeing Wershe, who is now 51. "It’s the gold standard for corruption."
Schwarz said Musilli "was a philsophser and proponent of truth and justice. But at the same time, he realized the flaws of the American judicial system."
Wershe is described as extremely upset by the death. "Rick always held Ralph in extremely high esteem and considered his death a huge shock," the ex-agent added.
Wershe, who lives in the Detroit area, is working on prison-related issues.