OP-ED: Mechie — 40 Years Into A Life Sentence that Began at 19

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Ellen Melchiondo

Ellen Melchiondo

Marie Scott does not want to be called by her given name. She prefers Mechie. Her name rhymes with Peachie, as in Sharon “Peachie” Wiggins. Peachie died on March 24, 2013 at the age of 62 after being incarcerated since she was 17 in 1968. In fact, originally sentenced to death, Peachie spent two and half years on death row along with her 17- and 18-year-old male co-defendants. Mechie joined Peachie at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy in Pennsylvania in 1973, charged with murder in the first degree, aggravated robbery and conspiracy, at the age of 19.  Mechie and Peachie’s friendship soon developed into soul sisters and soldier sisters. Peachie was the consummate friend and leader who selflessly shared her refined value system, spirit and grace throughout Muncy. Mechie embraced Peachie’s ethics and wisdom and grew up to be an equal to Peachie. Sadly, Mechie must carry the torch once held by Peachie, alone but with strong determination to gain her deserved second chance.

Mechie has spent 40 years incarcerated at Muncy. I met her for the first time on March 25, 2013, when I went to Muncy to find out what had happened to Peachie and to offer and receive comfort from Mechie and another woman serving life. I had been writing and visiting Peachie for a little more than two years.

My life revolved around Peachie. I reached out to her friends and to lifers advocacy groups to learn more about commutation and juvenile life without parole, and she guided me and taught me about case law. We were so hopeful that she would be released when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 abolished mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles in Miller v. Alabama. But Peachie died while waiting for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to rule on retroactivity of the Miller decision. I, like so many of her friends and advocates, was devastated by her death and missed opportunity for freedom. Prior the Miller ruling, Peachie was viewed by all at Muncy to be the most deserving of commutation. She applied 13 times. The women would say, “She did it all, tried 13 times and was turned down. Why should I try for commutation?”  In fact, since 1971, only nine women have received commutation from a life sentence. I doubt I’d try.

I was aware of Mechie from other advocates who spoke highly of her, and I had wanted to meet her for quite some time. Any friend of Peachie’s was someone I wanted to meet. As an Official Visitor with the Pennsylvania Prison Society, I was able to visit Mechie on that cold, dark, sad day after Peachie died. Mechie and I never thought that our first meeting would be on such an overwhelmingly emotional occasion. We tried to cheer each other up and we vowed that we would not let the memory of Peachie fade. We would work to preserve her legacy.

Mechie didn’t tell me about her situation until the next visit. Until she was 19, when she was sent to Muncie, Mechie’s reality was drugs, alcohol, physical and sexual abuse, prostitution, co-dependency, depression, mental illness, suicide, homelessness and being the mother of a four-year-old son. Her co-defendant was a 16-year-old boy. He shot and killed the gas station attendant during a robbery in Philadelphia. Mechie’s role was minimal. The robbery was to be carried out with a knife held by her co-defendant. But he found a gun while searching the gas station attendant, and the co-defendant took it. Mechie didn’t see the man get shot.

Later that same night, when the police arrived where she was staying, Mechie reportedly admitted to her role in the robbery. Both she and her co-defendant were convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole even though Mechie was not the killer and didn’t plan the robbery.

Mechie told me that when she first arrived at Muncy she couldn’t comprehend her sentence. Her trial transcripts show that the judge told her she would be released on parole at the discretion of the Pennsylvania State Board of Parole. Consequently, Mechie didn’t think she had a true life sentence. It was this understanding that gave her hope for relief all these years.

Mechie’s 19-year-old brain, like that of her 16-year-old co-defendant, was not developed enough to be sentenced to the harshest possible punishment. The Supreme Court decision in Miller was based on neuroscience research that found the brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s. And the parts of the brain that develop last are impulse control, risk assessment and moral reasoning. In addition, there are several Pennsylvania statutes that define the end of childhood as anywhere from 17 to 21 years of age. For these reasons, Mechie is fighting for her freedom.

I believe that Mechie has served her time and deserves to live the rest of her life outside the prison walls of SCI Muncy. As Mechie likes to say, “I’ve been here since dirt was discovered.” It’s time to let her discover the free world she has not seen for 40 years.

One thought on “OP-ED: Mechie — 40 Years Into A Life Sentence that Began at 19

  1. Richard Wershe Jr is serving a LIFE sentence for one *non-violent* drug charge he recieved as a minor (17 years old) back in May of 1987. Three years prior Rick was recruited by Federal agents and Detroit police as a teenage undercover informant in Detroit’s dangerous drug underworld of the 1980s. Rick’s release is long overdue!!

    http://www.deadlinedetroit.com/articles/6448/steve_fishman_parole_board_lacks_guts_to_free_white_boy_rick#.UkjCD8c0_Mg

    http://www.deadlinedetroit.com/articles/6344/michigan_parole_board_s_crime_against_white_boy_rick

    http://www.thefix.com/content/story-white-boy-rick-richard-wershe-detroit-corruption70041?page=all

    http://www.deadlinedetroit.com/articles/6565/white_boy_rick_reviews_amc_s_low_winter_sun

    http://www.theoaklandpress.com/general-news/20130713/lake-orion-polices-tactic-of-using-child-informant-brings-back-memories-of-white-boy-rick-case?viewmode=fullstory

    https://www.facebook.com/freewhiteboyrickwershe
    http://www.change.org/petitions/free-white-boy-rick-wershe
    http://freerickwershe.com/Home_Page.html
    https://twitter.com/freerickwershe

    Letter from Ex Detroit cop -> https://sphotos-a-iad.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-frc1/76647_10151152598368558_295049953_n.jpg

    Letter from a former Federal agent who worked with Rick:
    Page 1: https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/9311_10151152598418558_1532565032_n.jpg
    Page 2: https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash2/552411_10151152598473558_1538415208_n.jpg
    Page 3: https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/197393_10151152598523558_1957473128_n.jpg
    Page 4: https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/400232_10151152598273558_1473341454_n.jpg

    http://articles.latimes.com/1991-05-23/news/mn-3263_1_detroit-police
    http://www.nytimes.com/1991/02/12/us/detroit-police-chief-and-former-deputy-charged-with-theft.html
    http://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/08/us/former-detroit-police-chief-convicted-of-embezzlement.html

    ===============

    “The Rick Wershe Blog
    650 Life Law vs Current Law
    January 14, 2013 at 7:59 PM
    Before anyone can fully understand Rick Wershe’s case, they must first understand the original law he was sentenced under, and what the reformation of that law means for his possibilities of parole.

    In 1973, the 650 Lifer Law was signed into law in the State of Michigan. This law stated that anyone found in possession of 650 or more grams of a schedule 1 controlled substance, as defined by State of Michigan, is to be given a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    In 1998, the 650 Lifer Law went under reformation. It now pertains to individuals found in possession of 1,000 or more grams of a schedule 1 controlled substance, and instead of being a mandatory life sentence, the law now has a punishment of “life or any term of years”. What this reformation did is give the parole board jurisdiction of 650 Lifer Law cases after the defendant has served a certain amount of years. In HB 4920, which was passed by Michigan’s 95th Legislature, the possibilities of parole for drug offenders who have been given life sentences is defined. Subsection (7) states that “A prisoner sentenced to imprisonment for life, other than a prisoner described in subsection (6), is subject to the jurisdiction of the parole board and may be placed on parole according to the conditions prescribed in subsection (8) if he or she meets the following criteria:”. Rick meets the criteria of (7)(c), which states, “Except as provided in subsection (12), the prisoner has served 17-1/2 calendar years of the sentence for violating, or attempting or conspiring to violate, section 7401(2)(a)(i) of the public health code, 1978 PA 368, MCL 333.7401, and does not have another conviction for a serious crime.”

    Subsection (12), in short, states that an individual who has cooperated with law enforcement in eligible 2-1/2 years earlier than the time provided in subdivision (7)(b), and (7)(c), which may pertain to Rick’s case because of his cooperation with authorities.

    Subsection (6), in short, states the crimes for which a life sentence has been given, that are NOT eligible for parole after a certain number of years, none of which pertain to Rick’s case.

    Hundreds of inmates have been released as a result of the change in drug laws, however, Rick has not been as fortunate. Some of these individuals, who will be discussed in greater detail at a later date, have had cases with much greater amounts of drugs, and have not cooperated with law enforcement, but have still managed to be paroled by the same board that has denied Rick time and time again. Because of this, many questions have been raised as to why Rick is still in custody after 25 years.

    (On 1/13/13 I spoke with Rick on the phone. During our brief conversation I asked if he had a message he would like me to add to this first blog entry. He wants everyone to know he is happy that it his involvement with the police has finally been made public, and that the truth is finally out there for everyone to see.)”

    http://freerickwershe.com/Rick_Wershe_Blog.html