A Georgia judge called Genarlow Wilson's 10-year sentence for consensual teen sex "a grave miscarriage of justice" and ordered him released from prison. But the former high school football star and scholar remains behind bars pending a notice of appeal.
Wilson's sentence – along with the explicit details of his case – continues to stir national debate with supporters, including former President Jimmy Carter, who say his sentence was too severe.
In July 2003, a videotape surfaced showing Wilson, then 17, engaging in consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a hotel party hosted by fellow high-schoolers. A jury later found Wilson guilty of aggravated child molestation, which carries a mandatory 10-year sentence and requires placement on Georgia's sex offender registry.
An interesting exception in Georgia law would have given Wilson just one year in prison if he and the girl had engaged in sexual intercourse. Since Wilson's conviction, that loophole has been closed by state lawmakers.
If upheld, Monday's ruling by the judge will void Wilson's 10-year sentence and reclassify it as a misdemeanor with a 12-month term. The 21-year-old will get credit for time served and will not be required to register as a sex offender.
Judge Thomas H. Wilson said, "The fact that Genarlow Wilson has spent two years in prison for what is now classified as a misdemeanor, and without assistance from this court will spend eight more years in prison, is a grave miscarriage of justice." The judge is not related to Genarlow Wilson.
But Attorney General Thurbert Baker disagrees. He is challenging the judge's authority to commute the sentence and is taking his appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Wilson also was charged with rape, along with five other males who accepted plea deals, for having sex with another 17-year-old girl at the party. He was acquitted of that charge.
B.J. Bernstein, Wilson's attorney, talks about the case and her client's reaction to the appeal.
Web material written and produced by Lee Hill.
Official Release from Georgia's Attorney General
Georgia Department of Corrections
Attorney General Thurbert Baker Files a Notice of Appeal in Genarlow Wilson Habeas Case
In response to the order of Monroe County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson granting habeas relief to Genarlow Wilson, A.G. Baker announced that in order to resolve clearly erroneous legal issues created by the order, his office has filed a notice of appeal this afternoon. Baker will also seek expedited treatment of the appeal before the Georgia Supreme Court so that all legal impediments to Wilson's case can be resolved without undue delay. Judge Wilson's order struck Genarlow Wilson's original sentence, and then purportedly went on to sentence Genarlow Wilson to a misdemeanor. The law in Georgia is clear that while a habeas court may grant habeas relief, there is absolutely no authority for a habeas court to reduce or modify the judgment of the trial court, in this case, the Superior Court of Douglas County.
While fulfilling his constitutional obligations to represent the state in this habeas matter, Attorney General Baker has also attempted to bring the defense lawyers and Douglas County prosecuting attorneys together in hopes of reaching a resolution in this case. As recently as this past weekend, the Douglas County District Attorney's office offered Genarlow Wilson's attorneys a plea deal that would have allowed Genarlow Wilson to plead to First Offender Treatment, which would mean that he would not have a criminal record nor would he be subject to registering on the sex-offender registry once his sentence had been completed. The plea deal, if accepted by Genarlow Wilson's lawyers, could also result in Genarlow Wilson receiving a sentence substantially shorter than the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for which he was originally sentenced, possibly leading to his release based upon time already served. Genarlow Wilson, through his attorneys, rejected all of those offers. The District Attorney's office has indicated that the plea offer will remain available to Genarlow Wilson notwithstanding the appeals process.