(AP) Georgia’s Supreme Court agreed Thursday to hear the state’s arguments for keeping in prison a man who had consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. The attorney general later said his release could open the floodgates for hundreds of incarcerated child molesters looking for a way out.
Attorney General Thurbert Baker has caught heat for appealing a state judge’s decision to void Genarlow Wilson’s 10-year sentence but said at a news conference Thursday that he has no choice under the law. The state Superior Court had no authority to reduce or modify the trial court’s sentence, he said.
Baker called the sentence “harsh” but added: “It looms much larger than just this Genarlow Wilson case, and we have to keep that in mind.” The court said it would hear the case in October.
Wilson, now 21, has served more than 28 months in prison. A jury convicted him in 2005 of aggravated child molestation for having oral sex with the girl during a 2003 party. Although the sex was consensual, it was illegal under Georgia law. Wilson also was charged with rape for being one of several male partygoers to have sex with another 17-year-old girl, but he was acquitted. The party was captured on videotape. The other male partygoers took plea deals.
Wilson’s lawyer will seek to get Wilson released on bond at a July 5 hearing. Baker said he would not oppose bond while the appeal moves forward. As black leaders called Thursday for the state to drop its effort to keep Wilson in prison and planned an evening rally _ Wilson and the girl are black _ Gov. Sonny Perdue suggested the controversy is casting Georgia “in an unfair light.” Treating Wilson differently from the other young men in the case might be unfair, he said.
“How would they be treated fairly if this issue regarding the Wilson young man is adjudicated differently? What is our responsibility to them?” Perdue asked. He called it “a very difficult situation.”
At an afternoon news conference, The Rev. Joseph Lowery, president emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said: “It is abuse of power by keeping this young man in prison when everybody knows he should be out.” A 6 p.m. rally was planned outside the state Capitol in Atlanta. In Washington, members of the Congressional Black Caucus criticized Wilson’s sentence as “abusive and excessive” and accused Baker of seeking to “perpetuate the injustice.”
“This case represents yet another tragic breakdown in the criminal justice system that, unfortunately, fails young African American males too often,” the group wrote in a statement. “It is unjust, unfair and un-American.” If Wilson had had sexual intercourse with the teen, he would have fallen under Georgia’s “Romeo and Juliet” exception. But under the law in 2003, oral sex for teens still constituted aggravated child molestation and carried a mandatory sentence, plus listing on the sex offender registry.
If you would like to help Genarlow Wilson please send letters to the contact information below. General Thurbert E. Baker is the Attorney General who appealed the release of Genarlow. To sign the online petition please click here. If you would like to donate money to help with Genarlow’s legal fees please click here.
General Thurbert E. Baker
E-mail: [email protected]