Georgia court frees teen sentenced to 10 years in oral sex case

first_imgWilson, who is black, was 17 when he was caught on videotape having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a drug- and alcohol-fueled New Year’s Eve party in 2003. Wilson was convicted of aggravated child molestation for the act, a charge that carried a mandatory minimum prison term so harsh it shocked his jury and prompted an international outcry from critics who asserted that prosecutors had been overzealous and racially motivated. The law, critics said, was meant to keep child molesters behind bars, not to curb teenage sexual activity. The jury was not told of the mandatory sentence before it issued its verdict. The year after Wilson was sentenced, the Georgia General Assembly changed the law to make consensual sex between teenagers a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in prison, but the Legislature declined to apply the law retroactively to Wilson. That set up a test of wills between the lawmakers and judges, as Wilson’s lawyer appealed to both camps to free her client, who had been an honors student and star athlete. Writing for the majority on Friday, Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears noted that changes to the law made after Wilson’s conviction “represent a seismic shift in the Legislature’s view of the gravity of oral sex between two willing teenage participants.” “The severe felony punishment and sex offender registration imposed on Wilson make no measurable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment,” she wrote. But dissenting judges said the Legislature had clearly not intended to make the new law retroactive to Wilson’s case. As a result, Justice George H. Carley wrote in a dissenting opinion, the punishment should not be deemed cruel and unusual. Carley said the majority decision represented an “unprecedented disregard for the General Assembly’s constitutional authority” and wrote that it would open the door for others convicted of aggravated child molestation to be “discharged from lawful custody.” Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker indicated in a written statement that he would not challenge the court’s decision. “I respectfully acknowledge the court’s authority to grant the relief that they have crafted in this case,” Baker said. “I hope the court’s decision will also put an end to this issue as a matter of contention in the hearts and minds of concerned Georgians and others across the county who have taken such a strong interest in this case.” A diverse group of supporters, including a conservative talk-show host and a prominent New York hedge fund manager who pledged $1 million for bail, had called for Wilson’s release. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., called the case “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in Georgia in modern times.” “Each day this young man spent in jail is one day too long,” Lewis said in a statement. “It was unbelievable for this young man to go through what he went through.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.In a 4-3 ruling, the court’s majority said the sentence was “grossly disproportionate” to the crime, which “did not rise to the level of culpability of adults who prey on children.” Wilson said he was in “total disbelief” when he first heard the news of the court’s ruling from another inmate who had heard it on the radio. “It didn’t seem real,” Wilson said. “I stopped trying to figure the courts out.” He got a laugh from reporters who asked where his welcome-home party would be. “It’s not going to be any more parties for a while,” he said. ATLANTA – After more than two years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a fellow teenager, Genarlow Wilson shook the hand of a warden Friday at the Al Burruss Correctional Training Center in Forsyth, Ga., and smiled shyly as he walked into the arms of his waiting mother and young sister. Wilson’s mother had skipped up to the prison door to wait for him. “I ran around inside the house 20 times,” said Juanessa Bennett, his mother, describing her reaction to hearing that her son would be set free. Wilson, who is now 21, was released just hours after the Georgia Supreme Court ended his 10-year prison sentence. The court said the sentence for the act, which was considered a felony at the time, violated the Constitution’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment. last_img

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