Judge: No 10-Year Sentence for Teen Sex

By SHANNON McCAFFREY Associated Press Writer

June 11,2007 | ATLANTA—A Georgia judge ordered the release Monday of a man sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. The state attorney general, however, said he would appeal.

The judge in his ruling Monday threw out Genarlow Wilson’s 10-year sentence and amended it to misdemeanor aggravated child molestation with a 12-month term, plus credit for time served.

Under the ruling, Wilson, who has been behind bars for more than two years, would be released and would not be required to register as a sex offender.

“If this court or any court cannot recognize the injustice of what has occurred here, then our court system has lost sight of the goal our judicial system has always strived to accomplish ... justice being served in a fair and equal manner,” wrote Judge Thomas H. Wilson, no relation to Genarlow Wilson.

Wilson’s original sentence, for aggravated child molestation, was widely criticized on the grounds it was grossly disproportionate to the crime. State lawmakers later passed a law to close the loophole that led to the 10-year term.

“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 wrote.

Wilson’s defense lawyers were ecstatic as the ruling came in. But lawyer B.J. Bernstein later announced that the attorney general’s office had filed notice of appeal, which she believes it meant to put a stop to Wilson’s immediate release.

She said she plans to look into filing a bond to release him while the appeal is pending.

“It is extremely, extremely disturbing that the attorney general would take this action now,” she said. “In essence the attorney general is saying, ‘Keep Genarlow Wilson in prison for 10 years and keep him on the sex offender registry.’”

The attorney general’s office did not immediately comment.

A Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman said the agency cannot take any action regarding Wilson nor comment on his case until it receives a copy of the judge’s order. Wilson’s lawyers said they expected to talk with prison officials in the afternoon.

When the judge’s order arrived Monday morning, Wilson’s lawyers had applauded and hugged his mother, who wiped away tears.

“I just feel like a miracle happened,” said Wilson’s mother, Juannessa Bennett.

A jury had found Wilson, an honor student, guilty in 2005 of aggravated child molestation for having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl during a 2003 New Year’s Eve party involving alcohol and marijuana. Although the sex act was consensual, it was illegal under Georgia law.

Wilson was also charged with rape for being one of several male partygoers at the Douglas County hotel to have sex with a 17-year-old girl, but was acquitted. The party was captured on a videotape that was played for the jury.

Several influential people, including former President Jimmy Carter, stepped forward to support Wilson.

Salon provides breaking news articles from the Associated Press as a service to its readers, but does not edit the AP articles it publishes.

© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. 

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