Genarlow Wilson's Mother Speaks Out on Case
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Later, the chair of the agency that tackles workplace discrimination talks about who files complaints and why.
But first, there are some new developments in the Genarlow Wilson case. You may remember, he's the young man from Georgia sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl back in 2003. He was 17 at the time. But because of the law then in place, he was convicted of aggravated child molestation.
The law has since changed, and his family and supporters have been trying to get him released with time served. He'd been scheduled for a July 5th bond hearing that could have led to his release, but now a Douglas County Superior Court judge is saying Wilson is not eligible for bond. The new development could keep him behind bars for at least several more months.
Yesterday, I talked with Genarlow Wilson's mother, Juanessa Bennett. She joined us from the studios of Georgia Public Radio in Atlanta.
Miss Bennett, thanks for speaking with us.
Ms. JUANESSA BENNETT (Genarlow Wilson's Mother): Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: And I know you just heard the news about the bond hearing being cancelled. This must be very difficult for you.
Ms. BENNETT: You know what? Yesterday, my stomach was kind of queasy. And I saw some things on the news, and I kind of felt it. It's just that Thurbert Baker and to Sonny Perdue…
MARTIN: The Attorney General is Thurbert Baker and Governor Sonny Perdue. Okay.
Ms. BENNETT: Maybe they should be governor and attorney general, because he seems to be calling all the shots in Georgia. And I'm not quite sure why he hate my family. We're just an average family, and I've worked hard pretty much for my whole life. You know, anybody could check my credentials. I'm not, you know, a Hilton family or I'm not a Kennedy family. I just have a Bennett family, and I have an average family. (unintelligible)
MARTIN: Let me clarify what some of the things that you're talking about, just in case everybody hasn't been following the case very closely. There a couple of things that I think you're talking about here. One is that Dave McDade is the district attorney in the case who prosecuted Genarlow initially. A judge - and you and your family have been fighting this consistently. There was initially an offer for him to take a plea. He did not choose to do that.
And recently, a judge had ruled that your son should be released because the law had changed, saying that it was no longer a penalty for circumstances like this. But the Georgia attorney general, Thurbert Baker, asked for a stay, saying that that order exceeds the judge's authority.
lately. And I think you feel what - that there's some vindictiveness on the part of officials here, that they just, in your view, seem to be really determined to see your son stay in prison? Is that how you're feeling?
Ms. BENNETT: I don't know if that's how I'm feeling or, you know, I can't even really describe how I'm feeling right now. But, yes, you're correct. David McDade was the original prosecutor in the case. Thurbert Baker is the attorney general. But it seems like David McDade is the attorney general. David McDade is the governor. David McDade is Georgia. He is dictating to Georgia what should be and what shouldn't be. And he's saying my child is not a poster child, which I don't know how many parents can say that their children have (unintelligible), and they haven't made a mistakes.
their child, at some point, when they become a teenager, become unbearable. We've been teenagers ourselves, and we know we've been, at times, unbearable, where we think we're smarter than the world. But it comes all down to poor judgment.
MARTIN: Because I understand that the mother of the young lady at the center of the case, the mother of the 15-year-old, was quoted in an article saying that she - both she and her daughter feel that he should not have been charged, that the sex was entirely consensual. But then, she was underage.
Ms. BENNETT: She said it from day one. And she was underage. She was 15. But my son was 17. He was also underage. You look at underage in different methods. In society, they said a 17-year-old is a grown man. But I have never seen a 17-year-old go to the poll and be able to vote. I've never seen a 17-year-old able to go buy alcohol and go into a, per se, nightclub.
MARTIN: You said a couple of times that you don't condone his behavior. I'd like to ask, though, do you remember what you talked to him about before all of this happened? Did you talk to him about sex before all this happened? What conversations you had about sex, responsibility, alcohol, any of those things?
Ms. BENNETT: Well, the day that the event happened - and he was in his room -and in my house, there's no closed doors, so those who are, I guess, you know, bashing our family, they should know that I still have family values. And I heard two of his friends in the room whispering to him. And I guess they were trying to convince him of something. And I was in the kitchen, and he came and told me he was going to be back later.
I told him what were you all doing? What were you all talking about, in those are the exact words. And he was like, mm, nothing. And I was like, look, five minutes can land you in a world of trouble. It takes only five minutes to get in trouble, but it takes a lifetime to get out of trouble. Don't go out and do anything stupid.
Later that night, when I got off of work - because I had to work that night, which was New Year's Eve - I could just feel that, you know, he was waiting for me. And he asked me, have you ever not want to be somewhere and wished that you can turn back the hands of time? And I said, yes. And I said but, you know, you can't. So asked him what was going on. And he told me that some of his friends had called him, and that something had went on that shouldn't have taken place and that he wished he was not there, because that was not the type of person that he was.
I allow in my house. And I asked him why he did it. He said he didn't know, that he was just hanging out with some of his friends.
MARTIN: You know, when we've been following this story, every time we reported on it, people say, you know, people are - many people are appalled at the sentence. They think that 10 years for a 17-year-old who had sex with a 15-year-old who was willing is too much. But a lot of other people say, well, where were the parents when all this was going on? Where were the parents when a group of teenager were in a hotel room having sex, with drugs and alcohol? And I'm sure it's painful for you, but I would like to ask what would you say to those who ask that question?
Ms. BENNETT: I was at work. I am a licensed bartender. And for most licensed bartenders, New Year's Eve is almost the most crucial day of the year for a licensed bartender. I do call in and make sure he's at home. If any of them read in any of the articles or any other newspapers, my son was out of there before one o'clock, which he knew he had curfew, even though I wasn't at home.
a - I wouldn't say a negligent parent. I can say that I was a parent early, but I wasn't a negligent parent and I wasn't the one who agreed to let my son go out and do this type of behavior.
MARTIN: If you could talk to other mothers of teens, drawing on your experience, is there a conversation you wish you had had that you would encourage other mothers to have?
Ms. BENNETT: You know what? That's something that's very difficult, because I'm not putting down any parent. A parent can only raise a child to the best of their ability. I am going to say that, you know, the same way I had instincts about my son is the same way other parents have instincts about their children, who is in tune with their children. And sometimes, you know, you talk and you talk and you tell your kids this, that and other, and they'll still think that they're smarter than you and that, you know, that you have no clue about what's going on.
Now (unintelligible) at parents, got to come together and try to think of ways to get to our teenagers a little bit better. My attorney and a couple of attorneys formed a Web site which is myfifth - my5th.com, to try reach kids all across the nation. We try to educate them on the consequences of, you know, having teenage sex and other crimes that they can get caught up into, where our child in any state can log on to this Web site and see the penalties of what can happen to them.
And actually, to be honest with you, I don't even know if that's working. And it has a video, but it's just some kind of way we've got to come up with a better plan to try to get to our children a little bit better.
MARTIN: Ms. Bennett, I just wanted to ask if you feel - and you had some setbacks as we've discussed in recent weeks. The bond hearing for your son was cancelled, and - but a group of philanthropists have stepped forward to say that if there is an opportunity for bond, that they're willing to post a very large bond to see that he is free if the system will also permit that to go forward.
So as you sit here now, do you feel optimistic that at some point, Genarlow will be released before the 10-year sentence is completed?
Ms. BENNETT: I feel that the Supreme Court, it's in their power now.
MARTIN: That would be the Georgia Supreme Court.
Ms. BENNETT: And I've totally given up hope on the district attorney. I've totally given up hope on the attorney general, as well as a lot of people in the state of Georgia, and I've totally given up hope on the governor of the state of Georgia.
But I do still kind of have hope for the Supreme Court, because one judge that said that punishment was cruel and unjust. So we do have one point on our side, and I really feel like the Supreme Court will almost kind of agree with that judge.
MARTIN: Juanessa Bennett is the mother of Genarlow Wilson. He is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for having consensual sex with a minor when he was 17. We spoke to her from Georgia Public Radio in Atlanta. Ms. Bennett, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Ms. BENNETT: Thank you.
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